Young Tepatasi star named in Manu Sevens squad

A young rugby player from Aleipata, Fa'afoi Falaniko, has had a great weekend after his team, Tepatasi, shocked the Samoan rugby community by winning the Vodafone Samoa National Sevens Series.

Little did he know that things would only get better. Falaniko, 18, from Lotopue caught the attention of Manu Samoa legend and Sevens coach, Muliagatele Brian Lima, who picked him in his extended squad for the Manu Samoa Sevens.

When the Observer Sports arrived at Aleipata College where he is studying, Tepatasi's youngest player did not know he had been picked.

"I really surprised by what you are telling me," he said. "I didn't know but I am happy, grateful, and honored that Muliaga Brian Lima has considered me. I have always had my eyes on the blue jersey when I was young it was also the reason why I became very passionate about rugby and is looking at it as a future career."

Falaniko started playing with Tepatasi from the age of 14. Two years later, he will soon join the best Sevens rugby players on the island to push for further honours.

It is something the youngsters is extremely excited and grateful about.

"I am the youngest and the only one in school for our team," he said. 

"This is the first time ever for me to have made it big, even though it's the wider squad but at least my name is on it." 

Falaniko is quick to acknowledge the support of his family and the Tepatasi rugby community. The Tepatasi team is based Lotopue Aleipata and is made up of players from Malaela, Lotopu'e, and Mutiatele.

"I owe it all to our coach and everyone who has helped in building my rugby career. I started playing in our U-16 for our school Aleipata College, then moved on to the Legends and Tepatasi club."

Last Saturday was pretty special for the young man when they conquered Lauli'i Lions in the final of the last leg of Series to secure the overall title. 

"Last Saturday night was one of the unforgettable nights of my life," he said. 

"Winning the title was hard to believe. I couldn't remember the tough road we had to go through from our training, the scolding from our coach, the hard opponents, our exhaustion everything went away as soon as we knew we won," he said.

"Up until now, our village is still talking about it, they are very proud of our achievements and that's what it was for all of us. It was all about making our village proud and our fans and supporters happy."

For Falaniko, he sees rugby as a pathway to a better life so he could help his parents, Falaniko and Leofao See.

Aleipata College Teacher, Mao Iefata, believes Falaniko has got the potential to go a long way with his rugby talent.

"Faafoi is an active kid in school and especially when it comes to sports," Iefata said. 

"The leg that was held in Savaii, Faafoi skipped school just to go for the games, the last two legs, he would come to school and leaves half-day just to come to Apia Park to play. Even the last leg, I always go to his every game, to support him. The school would always give them chances because we understand that not all students are good academically, some are good in activities outside like sports."

Last Saturday was a long day for the village.

The villages of Malaela, Lotopue, and Mutiatele waited for their Tepatasi to arrive on Saturday night around 10pm with the trophy.

Flowers were thrown on the road, there was dancing, shouting, cheering, and triumphant celebrations at the Aleipata. From the pre-schoolers to old women and chiefs of both three villages waited for the buses and vehicles bringing the team and their trophies.

The team is planning a proper thanksgiving service at the end of the week.

In the meantime, Falaniko is getting ready for another trip to Apia to meet the extended squad and his hero in coach, Muliagatele Brian Lima. 

The 45 players who have been selected in the Manu Samoa Wider squad were named on Monday evening. There are 3 players from Marist St Josephs and Apia, 5 from Laulii Lions and Taula All-Stars, 4 from Tepatasi and Vaiala, 7 from Tamauli, 3 from Apia, 2 from Sapapalii, 6 from Aana, 1 from SCOPA, Lulumaivini, Faga, Falefa, Moamoa, and Malotau.

The players are: Alofa Luteru (Marist), Moomoo Falaniko (Marist), Tomasi Teo (Marist), Bright Tapenako (Laulii), Joe Perez (Laulii), Laaloi Leilua (Laulii), Neueli Leitufia (Laulii), Paul Eti-Slater (Laulii), Pama Kalolo (Lulumaivini), Faafoi Falaniko (Tepatasi), Faletoa Ena (Tepatasi), Vaafauese Maliko (Tepatasi), Toa Faitui (Tepatasi), Des Sepulona (Tama Uli), Elisapeta Alofipo (Tama Uli), Gasologa Pelenato (Tama Uli), Kelvin Masoe (Tama Uli), Kerisimasi Savaiinaea (Tama Uli), Pesamino Iakopo (Tama Uli), Uaina Sione (Tama Uli), Andrew Wulf (Apia), Billy Hugo (Apia), Mark Kolio (Apia), Tuia Salima (Sapapalii), Piilua Papalii (Sapapalii), Emani Peniamina (Aana), Gordon Langkilde (Aana), Melani Matavao (Aana), Perosi Taupo (Aana), Taunuu Niulevaea (Aana), Tuna Tuitama (Aana), Tupu Tavae (SCOPA), Labour Tuiala (Falefa), Theodore McFarland (Moamoa), Naturo Salatielu (Faga), David Tavita (Taula), Miracle Faiilagi (Taula), Tipa Sapeti (Taula), Paul Scanlan (Taula), Steve Rimoni (Taula), East Timor Viliamu (Vaiala), Malo Luteru (Vaiala), Mark Tusigaigoa (Vaiala), Owen Fetu (Vaiala) and Mathew Kolio (Malotau).

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