Coach Vaeluaga optimistic with Manu Samoa squad

Manu Samoa Coach, Vaeluaga Steve Jackson, is confident he has picked the best team for the Pacific Nations Cup.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, he said he is even happier about the expanded timeframe he had to put together his squad, which allowed him to look both near and far for players who can add to Samoa’s Rugby World Cup campaign.

Unlike his first Manu Samoa squad for last year’s November tour, which was named just 19 days after he was announced as coach, Vaeluaga was able to really dive into the process for the Pacific Nations Cup team.

“In terms of having the time to be able to sit back and watch hours and hours of footage with the coaches,” he said.

He said he is extremely happy with the squad of 33 players and five non-travelling reserves that have been selected.

“When we look at the way we want to play and the character of a person, then we look at the people who can fill that, and myself and the coaches think we’ve got that at the moment," he said.

“There are some players there that some people probably haven’t heard of, and I suppose that’s the beauty of having time, and casting your eye on not just around the world but here at home as well.”

Locally based players Alofaaga Sao, Tofatuimoana Solia and Johnny Vaili made the 33, while Patrick Fa’apale, Afa Aiono, Malu Falaniko, Johnny Samuelu and Joe Perez are all included as non-travelling reserves.

“I’ve said to those local boys that if we have an injury, which I can guarantee that we will, that I’m not selecting from anywhere else but those boys,” said Vaeluaga. “I guarantee they’ll get a run at some point.”

He said it’s exciting to be able to name so many local players.

“Just watching the Super 9 semifinals and final reiterated to me that these boys are ready to play.”

The 33 players along with local halfback, Melani Matavao, who was ruled out of the Pacific Nations Cup through injury, will assemble in Auckland on the 14th of July.

“We’ll be spending a week at the A.U.T. Millenium institute,” Vaeluaga said.

He said their work there will be not so much physical but geared towards learning their game.

“And then obviously doing some leadership work with Pastor Lenny Solomona.”

The group will return on the 21st, and link up with the non-travelling reserves to train in Samoa ahead of the Pacific Nations Cup opener against Tonga on Saturday the 27th of July.

Vaeluaga said he is excited to have that week in Samoa and then name a playing 23.

“Everyone’s going to get some game time [at the Pacific Nations Cup], that hasn’t had a game in the Manu Samoa jersey.”

He said the whole idea behind the squad is to make sure everyone gets an opportunity, and some previously capped Manu Samoa players probably won’t take the field.

“For us it’s about making depth, and making sure we know that come Rugby World Cup we’re gonna have about 43, 44 players that can play international rugby.

“We had a big list, but when we sat down as a coaching group it was really important we made sure we had some depth within this group.

“We’ve left some players out on purpose to give them a bit of a rest, and we’re giving these guys an opportunity to get on the international stage.”

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