14 Nov 2019

Sport: Manusina rugby coach laments player availability

2:20 pm on 14 November 2019

The Samoa women's rugby coach is disappointed more players have not made themselves available for the national team, which is attempting to qualify for the next World Cup.

Ten new caps have been selected in the 28-strong Manusina squad, which will contest the Oceania Championship in Lautoka from next week.

The Fijiana and Manu Sina played each other for the first time since 2006.

Samoa and Fiji are expected to be the main challengers in the Oceania Women's Rugby Championship. Photo: Oceania Rugby

Samoa will be vying with Tonga, Papua New Guinea and hosts Fiji for top spot in the regional qualifier, with the winner earning a place at the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand, while the beaten finalist will advance to a final repechage event.

Coach Ramsey Tomokino wanted a more settled squad but said for various reasons, including unavailability and injury, that wasn't possible.

"We're certainly not going into this tournament as strong as we would like to be and we've gone through a thorough selection process that picked the best players available to us and as a result we've got another 10 new caps," he said.

The Manusina finished runners up at last year's Oceania Women's Championship, in their first international matches in four years, and defeated both Hong Kong and Fiji to win the inaugural Asia Pacific Championship in June.

The Manusina won the inaugural Asia-Pacific Championship.

Samoa won the inaugural Asia Pacific Championship. Photo: Facebook/Manu Samoa

Tomokino blooded 35 debutants across those two tournaments and, with World Cup qualification on the line, he said it was frustrating that so many of those players made themselves unavailable for the current squad.

"In one sense we're building our base but this is the one tournament I didn't really want to be building - that's what those last two tournaments were meant to be for - but rugby's like that, you're always going to have players come and go - and hopefully by the next campaign we will be more settled."

Samoa women's rugby coach Ramsey Tomokino.

Samoa women's rugby coach Ramsey Tomokino. Photo: Samoa Rugby Union / Wayne Dowd

The Manusina squad includes players based in Australia, New Zealand and Samoa, with trials taking place in Apia and Auckland.

Tomokino has selected players from seven different provincial unions in New Zealand but said there is at least 40 more players of Samoan heritage competing in the Farah Palmer Cup who are not on New Zealand's radar but could still offer something to Samoa.

"We would have thought that we might have got a lot more interest when players realised they didn't make the New Zealand development team but, as it turns out, everyone's aspiring to be a Black Fern and they don't actually realise that they're miles away from there," he said.

"Which is a shame so we don't get to have them and they'll end up chasing something that's not going to happen."

"You have a look at a team like Wellington," he said. "Where predominantly their squad, and Counties, are Samoan players, and Auckland as well...

"The penny might not drop for these girls until the Rugby World Cup comes around and they're either going to say, 'I wish I was a part of that', or 'I wish Samoa was here', and I'd like to think they'd reflect and go, "what could I have done to help Samoa get there?"

Manusina loose forward Nina Foaese in action for Wellington Pride.

Manusina loose forward Nina Foaese in action for Wellington Pride. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Tomokino said a stronger Oceania region would also be good for New Zealand and provide the world champions with regular top level competition closer to home.

Samoa was not trying to compete with the Black Ferns for dual-eligible players in New Zealand but believed there was too much talent currently wasted on the international sidelines.

"New Zealand say they want to help the Pacific but they're not helping up by not telling players that they're not going to be Black Ferns or they're not on their radar," he said.

"What we do is we encourage the Samoan girls to go to them and say, 'where am I? Where am I ranked?' and if you're not ranked in the top ten in a position then you really need to start looking elsewhere."

Manu Sina 15s captain Masuisui Pauaraisa.

Masuisui Pauaraisa captained Samoa at last year's Oceania Championship. Photo: Screenshot/Oceania Rugby

Samoa are the only Pacific Island country to compete at a Women's Rugby World Cup and finished 11th on their most recent appearance in 2014.

The Manusina were excluded from qualifying for the 2017 event because Samoa did not have an active local women's competition at the time.

Four clubs competed a short domestic season last month and Tomokino said once Samoa's domestic women's game developed further, there would be less reliance on the need to pick players from overseas.

Manusina squad:

Billy-Jean Ale, Cynthia Apineru, Maria Jacinta* Ausai, Mary Auvele*, Josephine Falesita, Alafou Fatu, Linda Fiafia, Nina Foaese, Luisa Gago, Saelua Leaula, Marilyn Live, Jhana Magele, Apaau Mailau*, Molly Maligi*, Bella Milo, Sieni Mose, Timani Samau, Hope Sa'u*, Mary-Lee Sa'u, Easter Savelio, Joanne Seumalo*, Jennifer Simati, Alyce Solaese*, Elieta Taito*, Masuisuimatamaalii Tauasa Pauaraisa, Tuiala Too, Margaret Vaiouga*, Anna-Helen Vaotuua*.