A three-day trial camp has boosted the Samoa women's rugby team in the lead up to their repechage qualifying match against Tonga next month.
The winner of the Oceania repechage playoff on 14 November will advance to the final Rugby World Cup repechage tournament in 2021.
Samoa assistant coach, Cynthia Ta'ala-Timaloa, said the camp has helped to build camaraderie.
"Our players come from all over New Zealand. One came from Northland, one is from Nelson so they're coming into an environment where they don't know anyone, but that was quickly put to rest in terms of the second day," she said.
"We got a chance to see some exciting new players and also some players that we have had, but really just wanting to see them during and after Covid. It's been our first trip away from where we're all from, because of Covid, so that was quite exciting."
"The closeness that they've been able to build over the last four days, that's the environment that we want to build. Any opportunity to get together in a camp with Manusina, it's always like that where they don't want to leave. They make friendships and connections for life, [that's important] even if it's a trial."
The former Manusina captain said it's been special to be back in a training environment immersed in the Samoan culture.
"Just being amongst our girls and the management team, the coaches... even though the players have a really good time, we have a great time doing what we love too and that filters down to the way the programme is run and down to the girls," she said.
"I think being able to do that and to share Samoa [culture] and through rugby, especially in New Zealand, that has been really special to be able to provide that."
"We all wear other hats but when it's time to see Samoa [come together], to manage this team and coach Manusina, that's a privilege in itself and we always look forward to coming together and to campaign."
Samoa have been gearing up for this game for almost a year, after they were outclassed by Fiji 41-13 in the Oceania qualifying final in November 2019.
Tonga earned their showdown against the Manusina after defeating Papua New Guinea in March before their match, which was originally meant to take place in Apia in April, was postponed because of Covid-19.
Ta'ala-Timaloa said with the cancellation of events due to the global pandemic, they're thankful the game is going ahead as planned.
"We're really thankful and fortunate that we're in a position to play the only international rugby in New Zealand, or in the world," she said.
The team had their first hit-out in a trial match against Taranaki on Monday, with a trial-list of 26 women looking to secure their spot in the final squad.
The final score was in favour of the Manusina 68-40, but Ta'ala-Timaloa admitted it didn't reflect the toughness of the match.
She said it was a chance to test their match fitness.
"Taranaki didn't have a full squad so it was a great opportunity for our players to go over and play against our own players so that scoreline doesn't reflect [the game] in terms of how hard it was."
"We did change it up a bit. We took out the kicks.. we had a few in the trial match but didn't need to see a kick after every try. We just made sure there were two teams and everyone had a decent amount of time on the field."
A final squad will be announced in the coming weeks, with a final training camp to take place in the week leading up to the match.