Curtains closed on Samoa Sevens preparations for Olympic qualifier
Samoa’s sevens teams have gone media silent as they left for Fiji on Saturday morning ahead of the crucial Oceania Sevens Olympic qualifying tournament next weekend.
Both the Manu Samoa or Manusina 7s teams refused to speak to the media before departing, saying only that there may be an opportunity to meet with them when they return to Samoa.
The lack of transparency is startling on the eve of the most important singular sevens tournament in four years for both sides.
There is one place at the Olympics up for grabs for the best performing side in the men’s and women’s divisions, with Samoa a fair chance to make it in each case.
The Manu Samoa 7s need to beat 12 of the 14 other Oceania teams competing, with Fiji and New Zealand having already qualified.
Samoa’s main competitor for the Olympic berth will be Australia, although having finished above them on the 2019 World Rugby Sevens Series, failure to qualify will be a major disappointment.
The Manu 7s were poor at their most recent outing; a shaky silver medal finish at the Pacific Games in July.
Meanwhile the Manusina 7s struggled even more at that tournament, settling for fourth behind Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea.
They would need to overcome Fiji and Papua New Guinea next weekend to qualify for the Olympics, as Australia have already booked their spot at Tokyo 2020.
In recent times Samoa have been a step below their Pacific island rivals, who were both on the 2019 World Rugby Sevens Series this past season (Fiji fulltime, PNG at one tournament).
That experience of playing more regular games and better competition means the Manusina 7s getting the required results to qualify would be a major upset.
They also have to deal with the absence of local star Soteria Pulumu, who is focussing on the Manusina 15s’ Oceania Women’s Rugby Championship campaign later this month.
On the mens’ side, there are injury concerns with Melani Matavao, Tila Mealoi and Va’a Apelu Maliko all unavailable, while previous captain David Afamasaga is also missing, with Tomasi Alosio set to skipper the side in Fiji.