Manu Sevens welcome players back from injury
After an up-and-down start to the World Series, the Manu Samoa Sevens has welcomed the return of a couple key players from long-term injuries.
Forward and last year’s captain, David Afamasaga, has not put on the blue jersey since the Paris Sevens in June 2019, and in his absence the Manu disappointed with second-place finishes at the Pacific Games and crucial Oceania Sevens Olympic qualifier.
The 25-year-old also missed the opening two legs of the 2019/20 World Rugby Sevens Series, in which Samoa swung from a fourth-place finish in Dubai to 13th in Cape Town.
But Afamasaga is now fit and should be available for selection at the Hamilton Sevens starting on the 25th of January.
Playmaker, Melani Matavao, was also absent for the Oceania Sevens in November as well as Dubai and Cape Town having picked up an injury at the 2019 Rugby World Cup playing halfback for Manu Samoa.
A previous injury that kept him out of the Paris 7s and Pacific Games means the 24-year-old has not played 7s for Samoa since last May, but he too is now fit for Hamilton.
Matavao was sorely missed in the first two legs of the 2020 Series, when Laaloi Leilua’s return home to be with his measles-stricken family exposed a lack of depth at playmaker, forcing relative newcomers Paulo Scanlan and Tuna Tuitama into outsized roles steering the team.
In addition to the puzzling sidelining of Tila Mealoi, this was compounded by national champion Tama Uli Salelologa half Uaina Sione picking up a knock at the Oceania Sevens; his maiden international tournament.
Sione is now fit to potentially make his World Series debut in Hamilton later this month.
Belgium Tuatagaloa’s departure from the team to take up a contract with English club London Irish is offset by the return of outside back Paul Eti Slater.
The 26-year-old former Samoa Under-20 international played the 2018/19 season for Spanish club UE Santboiana, but has come back to the Manu Samoa 7s having last played for them in 2017.
Coach Sir Gordon Tietjens will be hoping the returning players will bolster the side and improve their fortunes in the new year.
The Manu are currently seventh in the World Rugby Sevens Series rankings, with Tietjens targeting an overall top-four finish before the do-or-die Olympic qualifying repechage tournament in June