Alaalatoa still pinching himself to be a Manu
Tighthead prop, Michael Alaalatoa, is still pinching himself that he’s in Japan as part of Manu Samoa’s Rugby World Cup campaign.
The 28-year-old from the villages of Apia, Fasito’o-tai and Matatufu played his first match for Samoa against the New Zealand Heartland XV on August 31st, before making his test debut against the Wallabies last weekend.
“I feel privileged to be a part of the group and really looking forward to the next couple of weeks,” Alaalatoa told the Observer Sports in Japan.
He had been approached to play for the Manu a few times previously, but said he didn’t feel ready for international rugby:
“I felt like I still had a lot for me to grow as a player and as a person.”
Alaalatoa said for the last couple of years all he has been worrying about is playing well for the Crusaders in Super Rugby:
“The timing was right this year, so when Jacko (Manu head coach Vaeluaga Steve Jackson) gave me the opportunity to come I was more than happy to take it.”
He said he has been training hard to earn the respect of the team, and the other players have been really welcoming.
Alaalatoa started against Australia in Sydney, and said the game was a good indicator of where the Manu are at.
He said it was quite different from Super Rugby level:
“The stakes are a bit higher and the ball’s in play a lot longer."
A Sydney native, Alaalatoa got to spend a fair bit of time with family in the leadup to the test.
He said it was overwhelming at times, as he doesn't get home often from Christchurch:
“Good to play in front of them too, my test debut, couldn’t have asked for anything more really."
The fans were asking to see Michael match up against his brother, Wallabies prop Allan, but coach Michael Cheika opted against picking him for the Manu game.
Michael said Allan was gutted not to play, in front of their father former Manu Samoa prop Vili:
“We still enjoyed the moment together."
Having settled into camp in Iwaki, Michael Alaalatoa said the local support for the team has been amazing:
“Iwaki have been really good in putting us up and looking after us over the last couple of days."
He said their final day in Iwaki, which involved coaching clinics for young local rugby players, was awesome.
“It’s a good way to leave before we head off into our Rugby World Cup campaign.
“We’re obviously pretty far from Samoa and where our families are, but to have some sort of support here is really awesome and we really appreciate it."
For the fans in Samoa and around the world, Alaalatoa said the Manu know what they're capable of doing at the World Cup.
“We’re doing everything we can to prepare well and hopefully the results that we deserve will come," he said.