22 Jun 2021

Manu Samoa mulling reinforcements

3:05 pm on 22 June 2021

Manu Samoa might require reinforcements with players still overseas and trying to secure a place in one of New Zealand's Managed Isolation Quarantine facilities.

Manu Samoa trained in the Wellington rain ahead of their test against the Māori All Blacks.

Manu Samoa trained in the Wellington rain ahead of their test against the Māori All Blacks. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Vinnie Wylie

The Manu play two tests each against the Māori All Blacks and Tonga over the next month, starting in Wellington on Saturday night.

26 players took part in a training session on Monday, with Northampton fullback Ah See Tuala and Perpignan hooker Seilala Lam still completing their two weeks in hotel quarantine.

Glasgow duo TJ Ioane and Aki Seiuli and Seattle Seawolves first five AJ Alatimu have yet to secure MIQ spots and face the prospect of missing all four upcoming tests.

"We're hoping they can get in in the next few days, the next couple of days, but if they don't then it's going to be difficult," explained head coach Seilala Mapusua after the team's first runaround together.

Samoa flanker TJ Ioane is wrapped up by the Irish defence.

Veteran flanker TJ Ioane is still in the UK waiting for MIQ spots to open up in New Zealand. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Despite the pouring rain, the former test midfielder said the early signs were promising, with players turning up in top condition and looking sharp.

"A lot to cram in, a lot of learnings, but for the most past the boys are really keen, despite the weather, and it's good for everyone to get connected and be out on the training paddock...it has been a long time coming and it was just good to get out on the grass with the lads and the coaches."

It's been 17 years since Manu Samoa last played in Wellington - against Scotland of all teams - and Mapusua said the team has been warmly welcomed by the local Samoan community.

"We went and had church in Porirua at the Methodist Church out there," he said.

"It was awesome to connect with the Samoan community and we have a few more community engagements planned for this week so we're really hoping we can get our Samoan community to get out and get behind the team. I think the last time Manu Samoa played here was at Athletic Park so it's been a while."

Manu Samoa head coach Vaovasamanaia Seilala Mapusua.

Manu Samoa head coach Vaovasamanaia Seilala Mapusua. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Vinnie Wylie

Saturday's test at Sky Stadium will also be a momentous occasion for new Manu Samoa captain Michael Alaalatoa.

"It's still sinking in," he said of his new leadership role.

"I've only just come into the squad on Sunday so I'm still trying to get to know everyone and it's been a while since we've been together as a team as well, so it probably won't sink in until later in the week.

"Really honoured and privileged for the opportunity, but at the end of the day we've all got a job to do and we all can lead in our own way, so the boys will make my job easy."

Seilala Mapusua has assembled an all-star team around him in the lead-up to his international coaching debut, with former Manu Samoa skipper Mahonri Schwalger, ex All Blacks captain Tana Umaga, Blues assistant coach Tom Coventry and Crusaders assistant Andrew Goodman all committed through until the 2023 World Cup.

Spot the all-star coaching panel, including Mo Scwalger, Tom Coventry and Tana Umaga.

Spot the all-star coaching panel, including Mo Scwalger, Tom Coventry and Tana Umaga. Photo: Facebook/Manu Samoa

Alaalatoa is enjoying life under Mapusua and Schwalger.

"They're two former players that care deeply about the blue jersey, that care deeply about representing Samoa with pride and it's showing through our preparation," said the Leinster-bound prop.

"Everything is flowing pretty smoothly at the moment, despite the weather. The boys are pretty clear about their roles because our coaching staff is really organised, world class, so it makes our job easy as players."

It's been almost two years since Samoa last took the field and the new skipper is looking forward to pulling on the blue jersey once again.

"As a group we're just grateful that we've got this opportunity here in New Zealand, where it's Covid free, to be able to play.

"We've got a lot of New Zealand based Samoan players in the team, so it's a great opportunity for them to don the blue jersey, and we're all hoping they do the jersey proud on the weekend."

Manu Samoa captain Michael Alaalatoa.

Manu Samoa captain Michael Alaalatoa. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Vinnie Wylie