25 Jun 2019

Sport: Eight new caps in Manu Samoa squad for Pacific Nations Cup

12:11 pm on 25 June 2019

Eight new caps have been included in the Manu Samoa rugby squad to contest next month's Pacific Nations Cup (PNC), while a number of regular internationals remain in contention for World Cup selection.

Savai'i Vikings prop Alofaaga Sao, Southern Tornadoes flanker Tofatuimoana Solia and Aana Chiefs wing Johnny Vaili have made the cut after starring in Samoa's local Super 9 competition, while Solia and Vaili also featured on the World Sevens Series.

Samoa's Tofatu Solia was selected in the Hong Kong Sevens Dream Team.

Southern Tornadoes flanker and Samoa Sevens international Tofatu Solia has earned a Manu Samoa call-up. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

Head coach Steve Jackson said he was impressed by the talent on show in the local competition.

"I've watched it over the last couple of weeks, the semis and the final and previously a couple of round robin fixtures as well and the quality of rugby over here in that Super 9 competition is quite outstanding," he said.

"I think it's probably one of the better finals I've seen for a long long time, in terms of club, that I witnessed on the weekend and out of the semi finals we picked up a prop in Alofaaga Sao - he's only 21 and he's got a bright future in the game.

"We can always look at New Zealand and Australia and other clubs around the world but I think we've got the same sort of quality players here and it's just about us now as a coach and a management group giving them the tools so they can be as good as they possibly can be, not only in the PNC but the Rugby World Cup and beyond."

Nevers lock Senio Toleafoa, Bordeaux number eight Afa Amosa and first five UJ Seuteni are among eight players based in France, while former Manu sevens flyer Belgium Tuatagaloa and Western Force flanker Henry Stowers have also earned a first call-up to the national team.

Flanker Henry Stowers is one of two Western Force players named in the Manu Samoa squad for the Pacific Nations Cup.

Flanker Henry Stowers is one of two Western Force players named in the Manu Samoa squad for the Pacific Nations Cup. Photo: Western Force

Jackson said while it was not the strongest team he could select, the 33 players will all have a chance to push their case for World Cup selection.

"There's obviously some visible people that aren't named in this Pacific Nations Cup squad which will be available for the World Cup," he said. "But it was a decision made by the coaches for us to make sure that when we go to Rugby World Cup we know that we've got 40-plus players that can play at international level and will be ready for Rugby World Cup.

"Hence the reason why this is just a PNC squad. There are players who will be coming into this tournament knowing that they will be fighting it out for a position with someone else."

Some players were unavailable for the Pacific Nations Cup because of club committments while one former World Cup player has already ruled himself out of contention for this year's tournament in Japan, Jackson said.

"To be honest we've had one player, to look after his financial security, turn the opportunity down to go to a Rugby World Cup purely because the financial benefit to him is just what he needs to do for him and his family," he said. "I can understand that. He's already been to a World Cup with Manu Samoa and you can only support these players with the decision that they make and it's an opportunity for someone else to step in and take his opportunity."

Manu Samoa coach Steve Jackson.

Manu Samoa coach Steve Jackson. Photo: Supplied/TLA

The former Blues assistant coach said players being forced to choose between club and country was not a new phenomenon and, unfortunately, not an easy problem to fix.

"I suppose you can read between the lines and in some circumstances that does happen," he said. "We shouldn't be saying it's reality but it is and it hasn't just happened now... it's something that probably seriously needs to be looked at and I know, talking to World Rugby that they are but at times you can't control these things - it can be someone's word against someone else's - but I'm excited about the playing group that we've got."

Players with dual eligibility, such as Blues flyer Melani Nanai and Crusaders loose forward Jordan Taufua, who both represented the Samoa Under 20s team, also remain on the selection radar.

"There's certain players that have to make decisions because they are dual eligibility and we've made contact with a few players in regards to that," Jackson said. "But we don't have to name a Rugby World Cup squad until I think it's September the 3rd so we've still got plenty of time for some of the players that we've communicated to that we'd like to have them on board.

"But it's really important that we have depth in our squad... We've cast our net far and wide and we're trying to look at as many people to make themselves available for Manu Samoa."

Chris Vui and Jack Lam captained the Manu last year but Jackson said a permanent skipper had not yet been decided upon for 2019.

The Manu Samoa squad will assemble in Auckland in three weeks time before their opening Pacific Nations Cup test against Tonga in Apia on 27 July, before facing the USA and Fiji in Suva.

Samoa squad:

Forwards: Paul Alo-Emile, James Lay, Jordan Lay, Logovi'i Mulipola, Alofaaga Sao*, Hisa Sasagi, Elia Elia, Seilala Lam, Motu Matu'u, Ray Niuia, Kane Leaupepe, Filo Paulo, Senio Toleafoa*, Chris Vui, Piula Fa'asalele, Faifili Levave, Tofatuimoana Solia*, Henry Stowers*, Afa Amosa*, Jack Lam.

Backs: Pele Cowley, Auvasa Faleali'i, Dwayne Polotaivao, AJ Alatimu, UJ Seuteni*, Kieron Fonotia, Rey Lee-Lo, Alapati Leiua, Henry Taefu, Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, Belgium Tuatagaloa*, Johnny Vaili*, Ahsee Tuala.

*denotes new cap.