29 Jul 2019

Sport: Manu Samoa hopeful for Apia Park upgrade

1:00 pm on 29 July 2019

Manu Samoa are hopeful their home ground will receive a much-needed facelift after overcoming bog-like conditions to defeat Tonga in their Pacific Nations Cup rugby opener at the weekend.

The Manu came from behind to win 25-17 at Apia Park to secure their first win over the 'Ikale Tahi in three years.

Cooper Vuna scores a try against Samoa but his side eventually loses 25-17

Cooper Vuna scores a try against Samoa but his side eventually loses 25-17 Photo: World Rugby / Trina Edwards

World Rugby officials were close to calling off the match before kick-off, with the playing surface resembling a mud-bath following sustained periods of heavy rain in the Samoan capital.

"It looked like it was going to clear up for a period of time there, but it came in again and it bucketed down in the warm-up and everyone was soaked," said Manu Samoa head coach Steve Jackson.

"Michael Groom from World Rugby just came up to me and said if we abandon the game it will be a draw, if we abandon the game in the first half due to the conditions, or if we abandon the game in the second half the team that's leading will win the game, so we were really clear from World Rugby what was going to happen in any instance."

Apia Park last underwent extensive renovations in 2015, prior to hosting the rugby test between Manu Samoa and the All Blacks and the Youth Commonwealth Games.

The national stadium also staged the opening and closing ceremonies for the Pacific Games earlier this month as well as the rugby league and athletics competitions, while the rugby sevens event had to be moved to another ground because the playing field was not fit for purpose.

Heavy rain and two days of rugby league nines did not do Apia Park any favours.

Heavy rain and two days of rugby league nines did not do Apia Park any favours. Photo: Games News Service

Steve Jackson was happy enough to come away with the win on Saturday, but admitted the ground was in need of some much-needed TLC.

"Probably the right decision was made in the end to continue the game," he said. "I don't think any team would have wanted the game to be abandoned - I think it just means that hopefully Apia Park gets an upgrade," he said.

"They've had some games on it, they had the league and then rugby and it's sort of never been able to get the growth of the grass back so hopefully they put a bit of work into that and we get it right being the only fixture we've got at home this year anyway."

Apia Park also staged the Pacific Games opening and closing ceremonies.

Apia Park also staged the Pacific Games opening and closing ceremonies. Photo: Games News Service

Breakthrough win

Manu Samoa overcame a slow start to open their Pacific Nations Cup rugby campaign on a winning note.

Tries from Cooper Vuna and Ben Tameifuna gave the visitors a 10-3 lead at half-time but Alapati Leuia , Afa Amosa and Belgium Tuatagaloa all found the line for Samoa in the second spell, as yellow cards to replacement forwards Fotu Lokotui and Sefo Sakalia proved costly for the 'Ikale Tahi.

Head coach Steve Jackson said despite trailing at half-time the home side felt they had been in control of the match.

"To come back twice from being down it just shows the character of this group at the moment," he said. "They've been coming under a lot of criticism around being able to play for 80 minutes and in those conditions, it must have felt like 100 minutes out there for some of those players but they managed to do that and they can be proud of their performance that they put out there."

Bordeaux first five UJ Seuteni was one of seven debutants in the Manu Samoa team. The 25-year-old slotted two conversions and two penalties and Steve Jackson was impressed by the impact he was able to have on the game

"UJ for his debut in those conditions at 10 controlled the game extremely well, put us in the right parts of field and made great decisions," Jackson said.

"And likewise did our number eight Afa (Amosa). I thought he had an outstanding game and at times when you [have] momentum of our scrum going forward to keep the ball in and make those little decisions to scrum for penalties."

"Not only the guys that made their debuts, but we've had a few guys that have been in the team for a while - I thought Logovi'i Mulipola was outstanding and then again Chris Vui playing at six again just shows the versatility of the guy and played another 80 minutes. There were just some outstanding efforts across the park and they will be better for it."

Manu Samoa coach Steve Jackson.

Manu Samoa coach Steve Jackson. Photo: Supplied/TLA

Manu Samoa have only won six of their 21 test matches since the last World Cup and with no more fixtures on home soil before the team heads to Japan Steve Jackson said it was important they gave their supporters something to cheer about.

"In those trying conditions they came out in truckloads and it was really important that we put on a performance not only that we could be happy with but also just for our public," he said.

"They haven't had much success over the last few years and barring the conditions I just thought our team was outstanding in certain areas of the game and I think we dominated most of the game and deserved the win in the end.

"Hopefully we leave here, and the public are happy, and they can see what we're trying to do within the group, in the way that we're playing the game and the way that we can finish the game."

Steve Jackson said the next two test matches against the USA and Fiji in Suva will be a chance for the rest of their squad to press their selection claims before the 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup is finalised.

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