Rugby & Rugby League
Manu Samoa prepare for next Test
Young prop forward Titi Lamositele is the latest Saracens player to come under the microscope in the latest installment of In Focus.
“One of the turning points of the game was I thought when we brought Titi on. The kid is only 20 years-old, he plays tighthead for the USA and he comes on at loosehead and he changes the game. He was superb,” – Mark McCall.
Saracens director of rugby is a man who keeps his cards close to his chest. Yet, after seeing his side complete a stunning turnaround to beat Bath at Allianz Park the two-time Premiership winning coach took the time to single out praise for a young prop forward by the name of Titi Lamositele.
Entering the fray after 57-minutes, replacing the barnstorming Richard Barrington (who also impressed on the day), the quiet and unassuming USA front row forward was thrust into the white heat of the battle as Sarries looked to claw themselves back into a game that many onlookers would have been forgiven to thinking was dead and buried.
Lamositele was up against two England internationals for Bath, in Henry Thomas and David Wilson and was in a destructive mood as he produced a performance that signifies a promising future for the 21-year old.
But, where has Titi Lamositele come from to become one of the club’s rising starts? Here we charter Titi’s journey from Gridiron fanatic in his home town of Washington, Seattle, to USA Eagles World Cup star.
This Sporting Life
Growing up, Titi was a youngster who excelled at many sports. Lamositele played America football, wrestled and competed in track and field at Sehome High School, whose notable alumni includes actress Hilary Swank and TV and Radio personality, Glenn Beck.
The prop was a high school football star before getting into rugby. Though his family is Samoan and each of his brothers and sisters played the game, Lamositele did not pick up the rugby ball until watching his high school team play.
“I didn’t really want to play,” he said. “I was really into (American) football. But I went to one of my best friend’s rugby games and the coach said, ‘Hey, we have a place for you if you want to play.’ I just tried it and after that it just stuck with me.”
Titi honed his skills at Chuckanut Bay RFC, his home club in Bellingham, Washington that has produced three current Eagles in Lamositele, Shawn Pittman and Nick Wallace.
Lamositele played for the USA Rugby AIG Boys High School All-Americans before getting called up to the Men’s Eagles During the Eagles’ World Cup qualifier against Canada at Blackbaud Stadium August 17, 2013, he broke the record for the youngest player to play for the Eagles. He was also a member of the Eagles Select XVs at the 2013 IRB Americas Rugby Championship in Langford, British Columbia as his stock continued to rise.
Now firmly in USA rugby’s focus Lamositele made his first appearance at Allianz Park for the Eagles in their international against Russia in November 2013 alongside Saracens star Chris Wyles. Lamositele signed a contract with Saracens that month to link up with Wyles, and the returning Hayden Smith who returned to club after a spell in the NFL with the New York Jets.
World Cup showing
The 2015 Rugby World Cup will be remembered for the Tier 2 nations inspiring exploits. Teams such as Japan set the tournament alight whilst some impressive personal performances from players such a Lamositele underlined the growth in the game. Titi was the cornerstone of the USA Eagles pack of forwards, and his exposure at the highest level of the game was a real positive for both player and club.
Lamositele rapid rise shows no signs of abating. Despite his tender years for a front row forward Titi already has ten appearances for Sarries, and a LV=Cup winners medal from last season. With some stellar props either side of the scrum on the club’s roster Titi’s impressive performances give Mark McCall a welcome boost with players such as Mako Vunipola (international duty) Rhys Gill (suspension) Juan Figallo and Kieran Longbottom (injury) all unavailable for selection.
- See more at: http://saracens.com/news-article/in-focus-lamositele-s-star-continues-to-rise#sthash.HBBVebsI.dpuf
The impossible job? The issues Alama Ieremia must address if Samoa are to succeed
Courtesy of ESPN
Dan Leo, Rugby Columnist
Rugby runs through people's veins in the Pacific. Since missionaries first introduced the concept in the late 1800s, the game exploded in popularity and Polynesians in particular became obsessed with rugby as a pastime. Not just on the biggest islands of Tonga, Samoa or Fiji either; look through World Rugby's 100 top-seeded nations and you will see the likes of the Cook Islands, American Samoa, the Solomon's, Vanuatu, even Niue -- with its population of under 2,000 -- are present.
But funding international rugby programmes comes at huge expense to our tiny and impoverished island economies. Often it is public services, hospitals and schools who bear the brunt of that cost. In this respect entire islands are affected, the highs of success and troughs of failure ridden by all.
After what was a woeful Rugby World Cup display by the top three Pacific Island teams, it comes as no surprise then that just a little over two months on, people are still hurting. With only Fiji coming out of it with any credibility, the aftermath has been expectedly harsh, with Samoa and Tonga head coaches Stephen Betham and Mana Otai losing their jobs. As Stuart Lancaster will attest, coaching is a thankless task. Given the riches of professional talent at Samoa and Tonga's disposal though, the string of poor results means the dismissals are probably justified.
In Samoa the ache of World Cup failure subsided for a moment with the announcement of Betham's dismissal and news the Samoan Rugby Union were to scour the globe for the best possible replacement. No expense would be spared, the public were promised. It was later disclosed that an independent panel, headed by former All Black Captain Graham Mourie, would handle the selection process at the insistence of World Rugby.
In a country where the sport has been decimated by political interference this was music to every Samoan's ear: a glimmer of hope after years of frustration. As the weeks rolled by, the pain eased further and speculation built about who would be tasked with restoring pride into the beloved royal blue jersey. Robbie Deans? Aussie McLean? Or Ewen McKenzie, perhaps? After all the disappointment of late, Samoans around the world dared to dream once more.
"Distributors and players with world-class tactical nous were amiss. Without good quality ball and field position, our impact players were made redundant."
Dan Leo on where the Samoa game plan was found wanting in RWC2015With so much pointing in the right direction it was somewhat of an anti-climax then when Samoa's assistant coach Alama Ieremia was confirmed as Betham's replacement. Rather than the dawn of a new era as many had hoped, it appeared Mourie and Co. decided continuity was more important at this time than wiping the slate clean. Understandably, a large number of Manu Samoa fans have been left dissatisfied. But while I agree Ieremia is somewhat responsible for Samoa's RWC2015 debacle, I disagree with those who say that he is the wrong man for the job.
While Ieremia may not have the experience or ability of some of those previously mentioned, Pacific Island rugby is complex. If icebergs existed here, then coaching rugby would be the mere tip of his role. Not just anyone can make it work. Monitoring players across worldwide competitions requires intensive travelling and months overseas. Accessing and integrating players from different systems with limited time and on shoestring budgets can be equally difficult. Throw in the complications of dealing with a domineering and eccentric Prime Minister in what is a markedly hierarchical culture and you begin to realise that coaching Samoa requires much more than a big reputation and good rugby brain. The position demands the right character and pedigree.
Ieremia possesses both of those in spades. As an ex-All Black, the playing group look up to him which in spite of recent events -- namely last year's player revolt -- is a good start. His approachable demeanour complements the aura that shrouds anyone who has pulled on the famous black jersey. It has enabled him to win the player's support during what have been tumultuous times. Namulauulu, his chiefly 'matai' title, ensures Ieremia is well respected and influential in a cultural context too. This goes a long way in dealing with the political battles that inevitably arise with the job. I also believe Ieremia's time as assistant coach will serve him well. He has spent those hours on the road in Europe, those months away from family. He is aware of the challenges and sacrifices required.
Ultimately coaches are judged on their results. No one expects Ieremia to win the World Cup, but Samoa's current ranking of 15th is an embarrassment that needs correcting. So can Ieremia lead Samoa back from rugby's wilderness and back into the top ten?
In my opinion, the Rugby World Cup revealed two key deficiencies in the way we Pacific Islanders approach our rugby. Ieremia will have to address both if he is to reverse Samoa's fortunes.
Firstly, we have an over reliance on our natural ability, size and strength. Whilst the combination of these 'uncoachables' may have been enough in the past, this time round the likes of Japan and Georgia easily counteracted them with superior technique, structure and conditioning. Here in Europe we see burly islanders drafted in by the dozen for the x-factor quality and power games they possess. Clubs don't require endurance, discipline or even a full 80 minutes out of these men so long as the individual moments of brilliance, those game changing off-loads or line-bursting breaks keep coming. Clubs have confidence in their ample supply of less gifted but higher conditioned, technically expert players who can cover for the odd mistake or the odd moment of laziness their star Samoan or Tongan 'impact' player may have.
Throw 15 impact players into one side though and you have a problem. At the World Cup, both Tonga and Samoa got the balance of their squads wrong. They lacked workhorses. Those types of players who go largely unseen but whose work ethic and low error rates are invaluable: men who are happy to just hit rucks and graft all day. All of the top sides have their ball players and ball winners. Tonga and Samoa had riches of carriers but too few set-piece specialists. Distributors and players with world-class tactical nous were also amiss. Without good quality ball and field position, our impact players were made redundant. Ieremia's first task with Samoa will be to identify players with such skill sets and instil basic fundamentals and higher conditioning levels within the others; those basics that our professionals in Europe have been allowed to neglect.
The second issue that needs rectifying is the fact Pacific sides don't play enough games against tier one competition. Argentina is the obvious example here and they need to be our template. Until recently, the only thing world class about the Pumas was their scrum; Samoa used to beat them consistently. But it's hard to imagine us even getting close to them today. Argentina didn't become a top five side by beating the USA, Canada and Romania week in week out, they improved through their involvement in the Rugby Championship. Yes, there were some thrashings along the way, but eventually it happened. This may be slightly above his line of duty, but with Ieremia's reputation on the line he should be using every ounce of his influence to push for a higher calibre of opposition than Samoa is currently exposed to in the Pacific Nations Cup.
With a fanatical population following his every move, I do not envy Ieremia or his task ahead. But if he can address these two key areas, I see no reason that Samoa cannot scale the heights we did between 2010 and 2012. Good luck, Al.
Manu Samoa Squad selected for the Test against All Blacks
The Manu Samoa has named its 26-man squad for the All Blacks.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, at Orator Hotel this afternoon.
The TEAM FOR THE ALL BLACKS
1. Wayne Ole Avei
2. Maatulimanu Leiataua
3. Viliamu Afatia
4. Census Johnston
5. Anthony Perenise
6. Sakaria Taulafo
7. Kane Thompson
8. Teofilo Paulo
9. Iosefa Tekori
10. Faatigā Lemalu
11. Alafoti Faosiliva
12. Jack Lam
13. Ofisa Treviranus (c)
14. Maurie Faasavalu
15. TJ Ioane
16. Kahn Fotualii
17. Peleifofoga Cowley
FIRST FIVE EIGHTHS
18. Tusiata Pisi
19. Michael Stanley
20. Alofa Alofa
21. Ken Pisi
22. Alesana Tuilagi
23. Faialaga Afamasaga
24. Johnny Leota
25. Paul Perez
26. Tim Nanai-Williams
27. Ah See Tuala
He's drawing comparisons to Johnah Lomu, Will Skelton makes an impact in game against France
The record books will show the Wallabies clean-sweeped the French, their emphatic 39-13 third Test victory on the weekend being the national team's seventh win on the trot – the first time this has happened since 1999-2000. Not that anyone will care about any of that years from now. They'll only look at the official record to check out when one Will Skelton, all 140kg and 203cm of him, made his international debut. The less formal public records, Facebook and Twitter, will simply say OMG! Let there be no doubt, Skelton's arrival was nothing short of a seismic incident; a Godzilla-like emergence of a New Zealand born 22-year-old of monstrous physique, toothy grin, and quite unexpectedly, a pianist's soft touch. Oh my God indeed.
Applause to Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie for selecting Skelton at lock. This column expressed caution about sending the youngster out to face the French pack. How wrong can one be? It was the French who needed protection in the end. Skelton skittled them in groups of two and three, the French flying this way and that like blue-topped bowling pins. Rugby has plenty of forwards who can shift pianos, but rarely do you find one who can also play. Skelton's ridiculous talents border on the comical. He even laughs to himself when pulling off audacious plays, like when he took a spell from beating up Frenchmen and laid on the sweetest of short passes to send Israel Folau clean through for a gem of a try. Skelton was grinning ear to ear the moment the ball left his fingers.
The scariest thing about Skelton is that he's barely scratched the surface of his potential. He was utterly spent when subbed in the 52nd minute. Imagine what he could do when conditioned to play 60 or 70 minutes, if not the full 80? It's a spine-chilling thought for future opposition at next year’s World Cup. And despite his weekend's heroics, Skelton won't truly arrive on the global scene unless he performs at that tournament with the whole world watching. Like Jonah Lomu in 1995, a big tournament could see Skelton's fame catapulted into the stratosphere.
Pulver’s decision to shoot down the prospect of lucrative out-of-season sabbaticals for the game's marquee players is ill-judged on a number of levels, including that the player who first raised the issue, Israel Folau, is the one man the Wallabies cannot afford to lose. Former Wallabies hooker Brendan Cannon has already made some very valid observations on Pulver's curious position. Skelton needs to take note. He's on the edge of something special as a player and has yet to sign a top-up deal with the ARU. It's his time. Humility is fine. He's got that covered. But repeated displays of gratitude? Absolutely - the Wallabies are very lucky to have Skelton playing for them. In fact, they should forever thank him for not signing for the All Blacks who chased him hard to return to 'home'. Thank you Will. Always. Now, it's time to get a good agent. Sonny Bill Williams's agent, Khoder Nasser, is the go to guy. He landed SBW a global ambassador role for Adidas. Come the 2019 World Cup in Japan, Skelton could literally and metaphorically be the biggest player in world rugby.
Samoa will play the first match ever played in London's Olympic Stadium
The Barbarians will play Samoa in the first rugby match at London’s Olympic Stadium in August.
The Barbarians have bolstered their 125th anniversary year by taking part in dummy-run for the World Cup venue, on 29 August.
New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa will all turn out at the Olympic Stadium as the Stratford ground hosts five World Cup matches, including the third-place play-off.
Samoa will complete their World Cup warm-up schedule by facing the Barbarians, who have already lined up matches against Ireland, England and Argentina.
“It is a significant honour to take part in the first rugby match at the Olympic Stadium,” said the Barbarians president, Micky Steele-Bodger. “The match should be a great spectacle for supporters and we hope to light up the stadium with the Barbarians brand of rugby in our first match against Samoa.”
Samoa will open their World Cup campaign against USA at Brighton’s Amex Stadium on 20 September, before also facing South Africa, Scotland and Japan in Pool B.
“It is a great privilege for the Samoan rugby union to play the Barbarians in the run-up to Rugby World Cup 2015,” said the Samoa coach, Stephen Betham.
“Not only will it be our first-ever match against the Baa-Baas but at the Olympic Stadium too, it will certainly be a historical moment for us. The attacking flair of Barbarians rugby will be a good test for us to measure where we are at in our preparations for Rugby World Cup 2015.
“The game will allow us to test our attack, defensive systems and final combinations, and is the ideal final dress rehearsal for Manu Samoa’s Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign.”
Debbie Jevans said it is vital all the World Cup grounds are rigorously prepared for the tournament. “We are delighted to add the Barbarians-Samoa match at the Olympic Stadium to our testing programme,” the England Rugby 2015 chief executive said. “As tournament organisers it is important that we stress test all our plans to ensure that we are fully prepared to deliver the tournament and we are pleased to be part of the first-ever rugby match at the Olympic Stadium.”
At least Five Polynesian girls selected to USA High School Girls All American Team
SEATTLE – The newly-established USA Rugby Girls High School All-American (GHSAA) team has named its inaugural roster in advance of the Las Vegas Invitational (LVI), to be played Feb. 13-15. Backed by the sponsorship of Serevi Rugby, during the LVI the GHSAAs will compete as two teams in the High School Girls Elite 7s division. Girls for the teams were selected from the 2014 Stars and Stripes camp and the2014 Youth Olympic Games team.
“This team is made up of a very strong group of young women who have dedicated themselves on and off the field to be ready for this opportunity,” said Mollie McCarthy, USA Rugby’s GHSAA head coach. “As coaches and players, we couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity at LVI to continue the development of their skills, grow as a team, and compete against the best.”
The 2015 GHSAA roster is made up of 24 players from across the United States, representing 11 states including California (9), Colorado (2), Hawaii, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah (2), Virginia, and Washington. The 2015 Girls High School All-Americans include:
Ashlee Byrge, Joie Krahling, Becca Jane Rosko, Morgan Courtney, Diarr Lillie, Emily Roskopf, Ali DeCrane, Apa'au Mailau, Richelle Stephens,Lilly Durbin, Michel Navarro, Abby Tobias, Tess Feury, Tiffany Person, Fina Toetuu, McKenzie Hawkins, Emily Prentice, Nia Toliver, Leti Hingano, Kat Ramage, Danielle Walko-Suia, Mata Hingano, Ashley Rolsma, and Whitney Wilson. The GHSAA coaching staff includes McCarthy, Assistant Coach/Sevens Specialist Emilie Bydwell, Technical Coach Marc Stcherbina, Team Manager Katie Wurst, and Athletic Trainer Bri Arsenault.
The GHSAA program is the entry point into the USA Rugby high performance pathway. Athletes will have the opportunity to progress from the GHSAAs through to the AIG Women’s Junior All-Americans, the AIG Women’s Collegiate All-Americans, and then into USA Rugby’s National Development Academy program to earn a spot with the Eagles in 15s and sevens, where they will compete in Rugby World Cups and Olympic Games.
Announced in late 2014, Serevi has supported the GHSAAs to ensure equitable opportunities in rugby for young women. Serevi will sponsor the team’s preparation and travel to play in elite tournaments across the U.S., and eventually around the world, including a to-be-announced 15s international competition in 2015.
“We’re so proud to see the program take shape and bring these girls together so they can play with and against other top players,” said Bydwell, Serevi Rugby’s director of USA Rugby Academy. “This is the first step in our dedication to opening doors for more young women to play rugby at the highest level and see where the game can take them in life.”
About USA Rugby
Established in 1975, USA Rugby is the governing body for the sport of rugby in America and a Full Sport Member of the United States Olympic Committee. Currently headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, USA Rugby is charged with developing the game on all levels and has more than 100,000 active members, with more than 35,000 playing collegiate rugby and 35,000 playing senior club rugby. USA Rugby oversees four national teams, multiple collegiate and high school All-American sides, and an emerging Olympic development pathway for elite athletes. It also hosts more than 30 national playoff and championship events each year as a service to its members. In October 2009, the International Olympic Committee announced Rugby Sevens (the seven-a-side version of the game) will appear in the 2016 Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro. Visit www.usarugby.org for more information.
Super Rugby Spotlight: Season preview on the Blues, who aim to rebuild with new coach at helm
by CHRISTY DORAN
THE once mighty Blues are hoping that the arrival of All Blacks great Tana Umaga turns the franchise’s poor recent history around.
Not since 2011 have the Blues made the finals.
On that occasion, the Blues were bundled out in Brisbane by a rampant Reds side on their way to the Super Rugby title.
Since then, the Blues haven’t finished higher than 10th and last season finished second bottom with just three victories.
It’s a far cry from the star-studded club who reigned supreme in Super Rugby back in 1996 and 1997, before winning a third title in 2003.
Umaga, in his first year as coach of the embattled Blues, hopes to restore the club to its former glory.
He replaces another former All Blacks great in Sir John Kirwan.
“When I was growing up the Blues were the team you always wanted to beat,” Umaga said at his unveiling as coach.
SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: WILL THE FORCE BE WITH THEM?
“They are steeped in history. They’ve had the greats come out of this region.
“I always thought that the Blues should be the strongest (of the five New Zealand franchises). “We have a great base here in terms of player base. Holding onto that is probably one of the biggest issues for us, but hopefully we can rectify that and keep the ones that we want.”
Kieran Read, Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo are examples of some of the top-shelf talent that has been plucked from the Auckland region.
It is hoped Umaga — the first Samoan to captain the All Blacks — will be able to connect with the abundance of Polynesian players at the franchise.
But he is under no illusions that the task will be easy.
“There’s no quick fix to turn things around,” he said.
“It is going to take a lot of very hard work which will be my focus. I want to let our performances on the field do the talking.”
Captain Jerome Kaino and coach Tana Umaga look on during a Blues training session at Alexander Park.Source: Getty ImagesWhile the Blues have lost a whole host of players including Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Luke Braid, Jimmy Cowan, Charles Piutau and Frank Halai, the emergence of the Ioane brothers, Akira and Rieko, and development of 20-year-old Tevita Li give Blues fans reason for optimism.
The return of explosive midfielder Rene Ranger to the squad after a three-year stint at Montpellier will only benefit the Blues as well.
Captain: Jerome Kaino
Kaino’s skill and intimidating presence was there for everyone to see during last year’s Rugby World Cup.
A hard-hitting back-rower, the 32-year-old rates among the very best blindside flankers in the world.
The Blues will be hopeful that the second-year captain can bring the same winning momentum back to the club.
Coach: Tana Umaga
After more than 10 years playing in the Super Rugby competition, Umaga now gets the chance to run his rule over a club as coach.
Umaga began his coaching career with Toulon, before returning to New Zealand in 2010.
He’s spent the past six seasons at ITM Cup side Counties-Manukau, the past four as head coach.
Draw analysis:an early test for the Blues
The Blues will get an early test when they open their Super Rugby campaign against last year’s champions, the Highlanders.
It doesn’t get much easier after that.
They meet last year’s runners-up, the Hurricanes, two weeks later.
In between it’s a tricky assignment in Christchurch against the Crusaders.
Working in the Blues’ favour is that they play Australia’s two most fancied teams — the Brumbies and Waratahs — at home, with away trips against the Reds and Force.
Reason for optimism: midfield combination
The Blues have a potentially explosive centre combination of George Moala and Rene Ranger.
If those two click, the Blues could return to their halcyon days out wide, where Tevita Li, Ben Lam and Lolagi Visinia are all great prospects.
Former Melbourne Storm and Kiwis league player Matt Duffie is another interesting acquisition.
Forwards: Hookers: James Parsons, Matt Moulds, Quentin MacDonald
Props: Nic Mayhew, Sam Prattley, Charlie Faumuina, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Sione Mafileo, Namatahi Waa
Locks: Patrick Tuipulotu, Gerrard Tuioti-Mariner, Hoani Matenga, Josh Bekhuis, Scott Scrafton
Loose forwards: Jerome Kaino, Blake Gibson, Kara Pryor, Jack Ram, Steven Luatua, Akira Ioane, Joe Edwards
Halfbacks: Bryn Hall, Sam Nock, Billy Guyton
Inside backs: Ihaia West, Matt McGahan, Dan Bowden, Piers Francis
Midfield: George Moala, Rene Ranger, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, Michael Little
Outside backs: Tevita Li, Ben Lam, Melani Nanai, Lolagi Visinia, Matt Duffie, Jordan Trainor
Bidding war for Manu Tuilagi tops $1M
The Samoan born player is at the centre of a tug of war that is set to see him become English club rugby's richest player at $1.15 million a season.
English coach Stuart Lancaster's hard-line disciplinary attitude in the leadup to the tournament saw Tuilagi dropped from the World Cup squad after he was convicted of assaulting two female police officers and damaging a taxi.
Now the recent hike in the salary cap by $2.13m is set to earn the 24-year-old Samoan a fortune as a bidding war for his services escalates. Last month Saracens offered Tuilagi a $920,000 deal, yet Tuilagi's club Leicester have raised the stakes beyond the million dollar mark as they look to keep him for next season.
Tuilagi, who is both midfielder and winger, has played 25 tests for England since 2011 and was part of the British & Irish Lions triumph in Australia in 2013.
Ofisa Treviranus to captain Samoa against the All Blacks
London Irish flanker Ofisa Treviranus will captain Samoa in its home rugby test against the All Blacks next week.
The match, at Apia Park in the Samoa capital, will be the first test played by the All Blacks in the Pacific Islands and will be one of the most historic in Samoa's rugby history.
Treviranus said he was surprised when his appointment was announced during a meeting between Samoa Rugby Union and team members yesterday.
"When I heard that, I was a little nervous," he said. "I thank God for this opportunity. It's not going to be an easy one. I didn't expect this to be honest."
The All Blacks have played matches in Fiji, most recently in 1984, but the internationals were not awarded test status.
New Zealand Rugby has long been under pressure to allow the All Blacks to play a test match in Samoa, at least partly in recognition of the many players of Samoan heritage who have worn the All Blacks jersey.
They have been reluctant to do so in the past, siting scheduling commercial, logistical and other difficulties. But plans for the July 8 test match began to come together last year when the prime ministers of New Zealand and Samoa added their voices to calls for a test to be played.
New Zealand Rugby was able to find room in a tight schedule in World Cup year for the midweek match which will be the biggest sports event staged in Samoa. The match is a sellout and accommodation in Apia is almost unavailable as many New Zealand-based Samoans return to their homeland to watch the historic encounter.
Treviranus will be under considerable pressure as the captain of a Samoa team that has yet to be named. New Zealand is also yet to confirm the All Blacks lineup for the match.
"It is a great honor to be asked to captain this side as we prepare to host the All Blacks," he said. "I know that my primary job is to earn my own selection into the starting team and then from there I will do my best to provide the leadership that's been asked of me."
Treviranus was a member of the Samoa sevens team that won the world title in 2010 before breaking into XV format, first signing for the Irish club Connaght before joining London Irish.
"Ofisa is a strong force in the Manu Samoa environment and he has the respect of the players on and off the field," coach Stephen Betham said. "Ofisa has previously captained the Samoa Sevens team and was a cornerstone player of the Sevens team that won the Sevens World Series in 2010. We congratulate him and we know that he will take this responsibility with great dignity and humility."
Pritchard's late heroics save Samoa in tight win over Tonga.
An inspirational cover tackle by captain Frank Pritchard has helped Samoa hold onto a 18-16 win over Tonga in their rugby league Pacific Test on the Gold Coast.
Manly's Jorge Taufua looked set to seal a hat-trick - and a stirring Tonga win - when he sailed down the sideline in the 78th minute, only for Pritchard to clobber him into touch.
Samoa had only reclaimed the lead in the 70th minute when the Warriors' Dominque Peyroux jinked his way to the line to bring their vocal fans in the 12,336-strong crowd to their feet.
In the end, their heroics saved world No.4 Samoa against their passionate Pacific rivals, ranked a lowly 16th.
Pritchard had already covered himself in glory when he crashed over in the 56th minute to level the scores 14-all.
Tonga again edged ahead 16-14 with a 65th minute Solomone Kata penalty.
But Samoa weren't to be denied thanks to Peyroux and Pritchard's heroics.
Samoa led 10-4 at the main break thanks to tries to Broncos teammates Josh McGuire (24th) and Daniel Vidot (37th).
Taufua completed his try scoring double in the 48th minute before his captain Sika Manu muscled over in the 51st to give Tonga the lead.
Pritchard levelled the scores at 14-all and Peyroux scored before Tonga went down swinging.
Samoa may have impressed in the Four Nations last year but they appeared vulnerable ahead of the Pacific Test without last year's playmakers Ben Roberts and Pita Godinet, both playing in the English Super League.
Samoa enjoyed a Four Nations campaign against the world's top three teams in 2014.
In contrast, Tonga played only one international last year, losing 32-18 to Papua New Guinea.
The two teams had only played two official Tests previously, recording a win each.
However Tonga had the better of their last clash - thrashing Samoa 36-4 in the 2013 Pacific Test.
Vailima Marist Sevens Tournament won by Marist St. Josephs in Apia
Marist St. Joseph’s have done it.
The home team overcame a determined Moata’a side, 36-14, to secure the 27th Vailima Marist Sevens title at Lotopa last evening, after three days of entertaining Sevens rugby, featuring the best players in Samoa.
The win rewarded supporters of the Marist club who have been turning up to the park for the past three days to support their teams – including the eventual champions.
On the home stretch in the final, captain Afa Aiono was inspirational, leading his young troops who were clinical and knew when to apply the killer punches.
They were up against a much more experienced Moata’a outfit, superbly led throughout the tournament by another veteran, Lolo Lui.
But cometh the hour cometh the man and for Marist, he was none other than the player of the tournament, Anthony Tailua. The young man was solid throughout the tournament and his form would place him among the top names for the national team. Yesterday though was about Marist. And after taking a 14-7 lead in the first half, Marist never looked back in the second stanza.
Their tries came from Danny Tusitala, Tupu Ulufale, Fale Iosefo and Tailua.
“It was a very tough tournament and credit to Moata’a for a tough final,” Aiono said. “We’re extremely happy of course to have won it but we couldn't have done it without the support of so many people.
“I want to thank the Marist Sports Club, the President, the Organising Committee, our sponsors and all our supporters.”
In acknowledging Moata’a, Aiono said the final was a great game of rugby played with very good spirits by both teams. The Marist win yesterday featured another first. The team was managed by a female, To’omata Sita Leota.
For Lolo Lui and Moata’a, they were graceful in defeat.
Lui acknowledged the effort by his players and their supporters. He also congratulated Marist for winning and for organising what he said was a magnificent tournament.
“No two teams can win,” Lui said. “Today it was Marist’s turn. We are obviously disappointed because we would have liked to have gone all the way but well done to Marist.
“All we can is go back to the drawing board and build towards next year.”
Both finalists had to overcome some tough challenges in the semifinals to secure their spots. Marist St. Joseph’s defeated Auckland Marist Samoa, 19-14 in their semifinal while Moata’a ended the run of last year’s winner, Vailele, 17-7 to book a final showdown with the home team.
Ex-NFL players are putting their dreams into rugby, and a league that doesn't yet exist
When his phone stopped ringing after seven seasons in the NFL, Aaron Francisco wasn’t quite ready to call it quits.
Then another ex-player, Deuce Lutui, reached out to him with an invitation to test a different sport — rugby. Though he’d never played the game, Lutui convinced Francisco to fly to Minnesota at his own expense and try out at the National Rugby Football League combine for a spot in a planned national league and a chance to play against international competition at the Independence Cup.
Francisco, a defensive back who played for the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts from 2005-10, was intrigued by what Lutui, the league’s director of player development, was pitching. Francisco could be part of a team again. He could show that he still has what it takes to be a professional athlete. And he could get in on the ground floor of a league playing a sport that is wildly popular around the world.
“I didn’t really know what to think about but told him, ‘Yeah, if they pull through I’d love to be part of it,’” Francisco says. “I didn’t want to be one of those guys who had a shot at something and didn’t take it and it becomes huge and I felt like I missed out.”
Another combine was held last week at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and like the event in Minnesota, it drew more than 150 participants, according to Michael Clements, one of the NRFL’s co-founders. Many of them are like Francisco, former football players who are enthused by the chance at a second life in a new sport.
Their ambition may be surpassed only by Clements, who says he is forming a team to play an exhibition against the Leicester Tigers, English power, in August, and plans to launch the 16-team league by 2016. “The world is looking at the U.S. to say ‘Hey, come play this game’ and that’s what we’re doing,“ says Clements. “We’re the ones that are bringing it here.”
Except many of those who have tried out for the league are feeling anxious after two canceled exhibition games and broken promises — not to mention an understanding of the amount of capital it takes launch a venture of this size.
“After the combine was over, I think they were supposed to contact us within 30 days after and I hadn’t heard from them in two months,” says Francisco, who was told he had made a team that would play against Leicester. “Then (NRFL director of player recruitment Shawn Zobel) called me one day and said everything was good and they’re getting things started up again and I got really excited about it. I joined (the Red Mountain Rugby) league out here just to learn the game and learn as much as I can.”
Zach Gentry, who played football at North Carolina State and went to camp with the New York Jets, participated in a combine last year with his brother, Taylor. They were told they made the exhibition team and to be prepared to travel overseas where where they would represent the league, leaving behind theirs jobs in the U.S. in the process.
“I got a call from one of the head guys and he was like, ‘Just notifying you that you may be flying out in the next couple of weeks,'” Zach Gentry says. “I was completely ready and ready to roll and my family and friends expected I was going overseas, but I never got that call. But we were told by (Zobel) that the NRFL is going to happen this year so hopefully it does.”
George Robertson, another co-founder of the NRFL, says they are now being more measured in starting up the league, trying to make sure they have the right players, corporate structure, partners and venues.
“If we have any fault,” Robertson says, “I don’t know if we realized how ambitious we
were when we went down this road.”
READY FOR RUGBY?Even if the NRFL is launched, is the U.S. ready to sustain a national rugby league?
The sport figures to gain valuable exposure next year when it is an Olympic event for the first time. According to USA Rugby, the main governing body in the U.S., 5 million kids have participated in youth rugby over the past five years, and there are 104,637 people registered with the organization. And another rugby league, the Grand Prix Rugby Football League, announced its debut in 2013, though it has yet to debut.
(USA Rugby, however, says it has no relationship with the NRFL and declined to comment on the league’s prospects.)
Clements says he sees potential for huge growth in the U.S., and has chosen to build a national league here instead of buying into a team in England.
“Why is it that this great sport of rugby that has been around since 1823 is not being played here?” Clements says. “So I went to work, started working with people, grabbed some folks that were very knowledgeable in major league sports, former NFL execs and so forth.”
Clements spent most of his life building APS International, which he describes as Home Depot for lawyers. In 2013, according to business records, he and Robertson, formed RugbyLaw with an eye on building the first professional rugby league in the U.S.
“This is serious business,” Clements says. “This is a major league economy. And the major league economy is exactly the business model that we’re following. So make no mistake about it — this a multi-billion dollar deal that’s being birthed right now.”
Clements declined to name potential investors or executives from other sports with whom he has spoken. Robertson says he believes they need about $200 million to start the league.
“The people that are looking at this are owners of major league sports right now,” Clements says. “And internationally, we have international multi-billion dollar entities that are looking in on this right now. And we also have Hollywood high-level entertainment figures.”
Joe Furin, general manager of the Los Angeles Coliseum, said that he told Clements he would introduce them to a number of television and entertainment executives while they were in town for the combine.
“I think from an industry perspective we’ve seen things come and go, we’ve seen ventures, whether it’s the XFL football league or something like that, so it does take a lot of dynamics to establish a new league and get it going,” Furin says.
“We’ve seen hits and we’ve seen misses —you never know what’s going to take hold and grow. Look at something like the X Games. … (When it started) people were wondering if it’s going to happen
“Now it’s a staple.”
Before the league is launched, Clements and Robertson plan to put on an exhibition game against Leicester, though neither side could confirm a venue when asked by USA TODAY Sports. Zobel says it will be announced in two weeks.
Another exhibition between a team called the American Barbarians and the London Irish, which was also backed by RugbyLaw and England’s Premier Rugby Limited of which Leicester is also a part of, collapsed in 2013 after it was scheduled at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. In 2014, another attempt at the exhibition, which is labeled the “Independence Cup,” was postponed a year.
“We have a concrete timeline right now,” Zobel says. “When we held our first combine we were in talks and in the process of putting together the Independence Cup with the Leicester Tigers, so it was premature at that combine or once we had told those players that they would receive the invitation a specific date.
“With the fact that this game is set in place for August 1, we have specific dates that are set in stone — not necessarily in stone — but a timeline of how things are going to play out in the next nine months.”
‘WHAT MAKES YOU SURE?’For longtime rugby players, having a professional league in the U.S. would be a dream come true.
Derrek Van Klein, a two-time Division II All-American player at the University of Minnesota Duluth who has been playing rugby for six years, learned about the combine online and then was contacted by Zobel. “I thought it’d be great if we could a professional league in the U.S.,” Van Klein says. “That would be a dream for a lot of rugby (players).”
Van Klein says he took on the role as the veteran player at the combine in Minnesota last year even though he was younger than most of the participants. He says he was invited to tryout at another combine this year.
“I was 22 when I tried out and I felt like most of the players there were in their late 20s,” he says. “So I felt young and undersized — guys that have just been training in the football combines ever since they got out of college — and it was just a big step up from the college level to seeing these guys. The way I looked at it I’d give it a shot and if I wound up being selected for it I’d put school on hold and go play professional rugby if I could.”
The NRFL’s Facebook page is also overwhelmed with requests for information and enthusiasm that one day it will become a reality. Despite what seems to be a limited amount of communication from the league, all of the players who spoke to USA TODAY Sports said they were convinced the league would happen as well. But what makes Clements so sure at least the exhibition game will happen this year?
“You know what’s always funny when you say, ‘What makes you sure?’ I always like this quote. ‘When does the Lord laugh? It’s when he hears what you have planned.’
“One of the things they say in rugby is you don’t get a try unless you do what?” he added, referring to the term for a score in rugby. “Try.”