Manusina coach expects tough Tonga challenge

Manusina Coach, Lauaki Ramsey Tomokino, says he is expecting a tough encounter when they take on Tonga XV in Auckland next month.

The match between Manusina XV and Tonga XV is scheduled for November 14 at 2.05pm (New Zealand Time) at the Trust Arena in Waitakere, Auckland.

"We had a good win against them in 2018, were not able to play them in 2019 due to measles outbreak in their camp, hence the reason we are playing this match," said Lauaki in an interview with the Samoa Observer.

"With their players all New Zealand-based, I am certainly expecting a tougher opponent that we will certainly not be taking lightly.”

As part of their preparations in the lead-up to the match, the Manusina playing squad have been training and will camp this weekend while taking on Taranaki Whio FPC in a trial game.

Lauaki says the trial game against the local club is also the first chance that the players get to connect on the playing field.

"We are in camp this weekend and trialing against the Taranaki Whio FPC squad. This will be the first opportunity for all the players to connect in what will be two days of crash course coaching concluding with the match versus Taranaki Whio, who hopefully will be bolstered by some Black Ferns needing some rugby this weekend as the FPC moves into semi-finals," he said.

"As soon as we were aware this game was on the radar, we have been scouting for new players and engaging with our incumbent players. 

“Just to make them aware and remain fit. We are spread throughout and given that we are only sanctioned to use New Zealand-based players, the spread in New Zealand is also great so the players have been doing satellite group sessions, where they can or these own individual training that is monitored.”

The players are also expected to upload their training regimes and organised sessions three times a week, added Lauaki. Their training clusters spread throughout and will increase their intensity as they go.

And while the team is looking forward to the trial game this weekend, the Head Coach admitted the COVID-19 global pandemic also threatened to throw the spanner in the works of their preparations.

A number of Manusina players are stranded overseas, frustrating Lauaki, though he says he is not facing a player shortage crisis.

"It continues to be frustrating but we just have to accept that this is our new normal. We have yet to get all our best players out on the field at any one time. 

“Every campaign we gain some good players and then we lose some for a raft of varying reasons. 

“We are disappointed that we cannot especially get our Samoan-based players to New Zealand but again we understand the environment we live in.”

Lauaki told the Samoa Observer that the current crop of Manusina players are from Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and the U.S.

"As a management group, we certainly take pride ourselves on players within Samoa being part of the team, at one point we have nine local players and we are striving to build on that given the good development going on by Samoa Rugby,” he added.

“Some key players are Samoan-based. However, we are fortunate that Soteria Pulumu is still in Auckland having been here for seasonal work and is still here. We missed her due to seasonal employment in the qualification [round] in Fiji in November.”

Disagreement over the selection of the final Manusina XV squad members is also an area that he hopes his explanation will clarify. 

"We certainly feel for our players from abroad that cannot participate. I know some people are not happy and somehow interpreting this as some form of exclusion of players that we have chosen, this certainly isn't the case. 

“To put in perspective, Oceania staff will not be traveling for the game, although they are the organisation that put this game on. 

“We, fortunately, have depth in New Zealand that we can call into. We have a database of up to 60 plus players that are potential, so there will be no shortage of options.”

Securing victory against the Tongans in order to qualify for the Rugby World Cup is not the team’s only goal, says Lauaki, who emphasised that representing Samoa at the international level is also equally important.

"Any match in the blue Jersey and the representation of Samoa means more than anything you can print. Every opportunity to play in or coach a Samoan team is a position of privilege,” he said.

“We are flag-bearers for our nation when we run out on the field and that is not lost on this team. We need to win this match to give ourselves the best chance possible to make the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.”

Lauaki is confident that the Manusina will be competitive as the best players with Samoan heritage in New Zealand as well as raw talent from Samoa will be selected.

“We are well supported for what we need by Samoa Rugby and with Investment into the Women's game,” he further reiterated.

“We are a humble team that strives to do our best with what we have. Other challenges are fence-sitters that can't decide whether they want to play for Samoa. 

“If we could pick the very best of our players of Samoan heritage in New Zealand combined with our raw talent from Samoa and other players abroad, I have no doubt in my mind we would be competitive.”

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