Former All Black flyer Zac Guildford is a shock inclusion in the Kagifa Samoa team to play the Fijian Latui in tonight's Global Rapid Rugby clash in South Auckland.
The 30 year old Guilford played ten tests for New Zealand between 2009 and 2012 and was a part of their Rugby World Cup winning side eight years ago.
The former Crusaders, Clermont and Waratahs speedster is currently playing club rugby in Hamilton after leaving French second division side Nevers at the start of the year.
Kagifa Samoa head coach Semo Sititi said Guilford has been on their radar for a while.
"He had commitments in the last two weeks and that's why he didn't make himself available (for the away matches against the Fijian Latui and Western Force)...We made contact with him and Richard (Fale, Kagifa Samoa CEO) met him down at Hamilton and he showed some interest."
Sititi, a former Manu Samoa captain, said Guilford has already made a positive impact on the squad since linking up with his new teammates this week.
"We only managed to have one training with him - that was on Tuesday night - but he brought some experience and good knowledge and he shared it with the boys which makes the coach's job a lot easier."
"When you have an All Black running around next to you there's always a feeling that you're trying to match up with him. It's trying to make sure that everybody is in the same level," he said.
"It helps a lot with his experience attack-wise and he's put a lot of input in at the last training so hopefully he will get a good game because, as I said, he's got a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge he's sharing with the boys but at the same time we need to manage him to make sure he lasts the whole game."
Zac Guilford will line up at fullback tonight and is one of six new faces in the starting fifteen from the side thrashed 63-5 by the Western Force in Perth last week, including an all-new front row, changes at lock and loose forward, while Luke Makris comes in at first five in place of Tonga international Latiume Fosita.
Semo Sititi admitted it has been a challenging introduction for the Kagifa Samoa team. While the bulk of their squad are Samoans based in New Zealand, he said they only have time for two training sessions per week and with an ever-changing cast of players it's proved difficult to build continuity.
"If we're lucky to have the full squad in one training that's a bonus for us," he confessed. "It's very hard just trying to get a team together when some unions stop their players from coming to play for Kagifa and also the agents and stuff...even we don't have a field to train on so I have to look for a field to train on Tuesday nights and Wednesday nights."
Despite a host of off-field challenges, Kagifa Samoa proved more than competitive in their Global Rapid Rugby debut where they conceded a try in the final play of the match to lose 38-32 against the Fijian Latui in Lautoka.
However, Sititi acknowledged there were few positives to glean from their heavy defeat away to the Western Force. "It was a massive step up - you can tell the difference between the club players and the pros because they've been together for a long time against guys who are just coming in to play a game...we managed to hold them off in that first 20/25 (minutes). We defended well and then they started to break us up into pieces when we were out of petrol."
The addition of Zac Guilford has provided a welcome boost for Kagifa Samoa ahead of their rematch against the Latui on Friday night while four Australia based players have flown over to New Zealand to help fill gaps in their squad.
Despite a less than ideal preparation, Semo Sititi believes the wet conditions forecast in Pukekohe will suit the physicality of his players while he said they also have a much better understanding of what to expect from the Latui.
"Looking at the tactical side of things it's a bit easier because we now know how they play," he said. "It's pretty hard with different guys coming in into the squad - if I had the same guys from the first week until now it would be a lot easier combination-wise but the good thing is we now know how they play and what their plans are so we had a bit of time to look at their weaknesses so we can attack and exploit."
Meanwhile there are seven new faces in the Fijian Latui starting line-up from the side beaten 27-15 by the Force two weeks ago. Joeli Veitayaki and Mesulame Dolokoto come into the front row, Peni Naulago and Isikeli Nabou form a new locking duo, Peni Raidre starts at the back of the scrum while Lepani Raiyala and Jone Manu join the backline, with Enele Malele switching from fullback to first five, in place of Tuidraki Samusamuvodre.