Shield holders SCOPA on the up ahead of Marist Sevens
The AST SCOPA Rugby Club are looking to make a splash at the Marist International Sevens Tournament on February 15th and 16th, off the back of their Taula Apia Rugby Union Shield victory over Vaiala last weekend.
A big part of the preparations for the Marist Tournament is the recruitment of genuine star power in three talented Fijian players; playmaker Nacanieli Batina, and national team veterans Pio Tuwai and Joeli Lutumailagi.
One of SCOPA’s 7s and 15s coaches Taito Louis Lene said it’s the first time the club have brought players in from outside of Samoa.
“We see it as a really positive step forward.
“I think we’re helping the tournament in a big way.”
He said it boosts the profile for both the club and the Marist Sevens as a whole, because they like to bring stars over where possible.
“It’s going to be really beneficial for us, in terms of our young players.”
He said those young locals will be able to look up to the Fijian imports, whose leadership and sevens experience would make the players around them better.
“We don’t really play sevens as much as the Fijians.
“We have some really good young players, but we just needed that ingredient we thought was missing.”
Taito said having struggled a little bit in the last few tournaments, SCOPA looked to follow the model of reigning champions Auckland Marist, who normally have three or four Fijian players in their side.
He said they were still working on acquiring the funds necessary to bring Batina, Tuwai and Lutumailagi over next week, hoping more sponsors and people willing to help would get on board.
“We believe we can meet those costs, but it’s a costly exercise.
“We were fortunate to have assistance from some of our ex-players and members that are overseas in Australia, New Zealand and America.”
Taito said the wider SCOPA network have all come on board and used their connections to try for international recruitment this year, something they’ll look to do again if it works.
“We’ve never won the Marist Sevens.”
He said winning the tournament would be huge for the club, particularly having just won the Shield in 15s.
“It’s been a really exciting last few weeks, it has sort of brought good memories of the old days.
“We used to be one of the good clubs in Samoa, not only in 15s but also 7s.”
Before the season began, SCOPA all came together to discuss how to put the club back where it once was.
Taito said last Saturday’s Shield win showed real progress has been made.
“We didn’t expect it to happen that quick but we knew we had the ability.”
He said their aim is to get back to providing lots of representative players, and build momentum through winning.
SCOPA were originally scheduled to play Moata’a in their first Shield defence this weekend, however that was changed to Vailele at an Apia Rugby Union meeting on Tuesday.
Taito said no matter the opposition, performance levels always rise 20-30% when the Shield is on the line.
“You never know with the Apia Union teams.”
He said after a big celebration on Saturday, the SCOPA team have shown incredible willingness in training.
“They know we have a mission.”
Taito said it’s a mission, both in 15s and in 7s, that they hope their members can get behind.
“You have a village, but if you went to Samoa College you’ll always have that 2nd team.”