Experience and new blood makes up Manu Samoa squad

The Manu Samoa squad for the Pacific Nations Cup will assemble on the 14th of July in Auckland from rugby clubs around the world.

Manu Samoa 7s player Johnny Vaili is one of three local Samoan players in the squad of 33, along with his teammate Tofatuimoana Solia and Savai’i Vikings tighthead prop Alofaaga Sao.

Manu Samoa head coach Vaeluaga Steve Jackson said the 24-year-old outside back Vaili thoroughly deserves his place based on the performances he put in over the 2019 World Rugby Sevens Series.

“He’s what, six foot five or six, he’s fast, and defends.”

Vaeluaga said he is conscious of the Manu facing Northern Hemisphere sides at the Rugby World Cup in September, along with their propensity to kick, and how Vaili’s famously high dropkicks could fit the team.

“He’s got a skillset that we like.”

Vaili and Solia will play for the Manu Samoa 7s at the Pacific Games tournament on the 12th and 13th of July, before flying to Auckland to join the 15s camp.

Vaeluaga said they are committed to doing Samoa proud by winning gold at the Games.

“It’s really important that they finish the 7s season with their team.”

The squad also features four players from Global Rapid Rugby; Henry Stowers, AJ Alatimu and Henry Taefu from the Western Force and prop Hisa Sasagi who played for the Asia Pacific Dragons in April, and spent some time with the Blues in Super Rugby.

Vaeluaga said the coaches have been speaking with Sasagi for some time now.

“The other thing is [Manu Samoa forwards coach] Ben Afeaki has been able to work with him within the Blues so he gave us a really good insight into how he’s going.”

He said potential debutant Stowers is one of the players in the squad who are extremely excited.

“He can play all three [loose forward] positions, currently playing six but we’d like to see him at seven as well at some point during the Pacific Nations Cup.”

The rest of the squad play their rugby in New Zealand (three players), France (10) and the United Kingdom (13).

Stuff reported last week that French clubs are putting pressure on Samoan players to make themselves unavailable to play at the Rugby World Cup, despite a World Rugby regulation that states clubs must release their players for test rugby, including World Cups.

However in the past clubs have told their international players that their future employment is at risk if they choose to play for their country.

Vaeluaga said it’s a reality they have to deal with.

“Our players have gotta put food on the table for their families, they’ve gotta make some hard decisions.

“Sometimes it’s sad when you’re putting a player in the middle to make those decisions.”

He said everyone in the P.N.C squad comes with the full backing of their club.

“Hence the reason there’s probably a couple of names there that might have been there but aren’t.”

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