Manu Samoa’s head coach believes their first warm-up game for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, against Japan in July, will reveal where they are in their preparations.
Seilala Mapusua told RNZ Pacific they are a very strong squad which includes one former Wallaby and four former All Blacks.
They are players who are taking advantage of the change in eligibility laws that allow players to switch international allegiances under certain conditions.
Former Wallaby fly-half and Moana Pasifika veteran Christian Leali’ifano joins ex-All Blacks Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and Lima Sopoaga in the Samoan team.
Mapusua said it is the toughest squad he has had to select in his tenure as coach, but he was happy with his selection and believes the players were the best available.
The players go into camp in Apia on July 1 to prepare for the Japan Test in Hokkaido on 22 July.
“I am really looking forward to that game as we are in the same pool at the Rugby World Cup,” he said.
“It will be a good test for us to see where we are at and what we will need to be doing to be ready for France.”
The former Manu Samoa star said the players need time together so they can get to know each other’s game.
Manu Samoa will also host Fiji in Apia on 29 July and Tonga on 05 August.
Mapusua said they would announce their final squad after the three Test matches before they fly to France.
That squad will face Ireland in Bayonne for their final workout together before the World Cup kicks off, where they will face Chile.
The inclusion of experienced hands in the former international players will be critical to the Manu Samoa campaign.
Mapusua said the five players will bring a lot of depth, experience, leadership and game knowledge.
“What I am looking forward to for those guys is to bring the wealth of knowledge and experience they have with them on top of their capabilities as players,” he said.
“They are all world class players and have proven that at Test match levels. In terms of our game management, they are accustomed to those pressure situations.
“Having that experience and the rugby IQ is going to be really really big for our squad as a whole.”
The five players are expected to be key players for Samoa in their different positions.
Leali’ifano and Sopoaga will provide options at fly-half – a pivotal position for any rugby side going into the world meet.
Super Rugby experience in Michael Ala’alatoa, Jack Lam, and Chris Vui will add to the experience and leadership to the team.
Tim Nanai-Williams, who previously has represented New Zealand in Sevens, brings his expertise, along with Nigel Ah Wong and Melani Matavao.
The squad also includes some new players like Moana Pasifika standout Miracle Fai’ilangi.
Mapusua is looking forward to the players getting together in Apia for their preparations.
“Very happy with the squad we have selected and it was not easy. It is highly competitive,” he said.
“Probably the hardest squad I have selected, just really good competition for places.
“Rugby games are never won on paper. While it is a great squad, we have got a lot of work to do. I am really excited with this group, with really good skills across all positions.
“I am really looking forward to getting to know them and start working with them and hopefully we can grow and develop to be really competitive at the Rugby World Cup.”
He said young flanker Fai’ilangi has had a good season with Moana Pasifika and deserved a call up.
“Miracle has a had a great season with Moana despite the results. I think his growth has been massive this year and having the opportunity to select him after such a great season is something he deserves.”
Newcomers joining Fai’ilangi are Samuel Slade, Alamanda Motuga, Tumua Manu and Martini Talapusi.
Manu Samoa is in Pool D with England, Japan, Chile, and Argentina.
Chile will battle the Samoans in Bordeaux on September 16, after resting in the first round of matches.
Mapusua said it was a tough pool and they will need to be on their game.
“We have four very hard games. But that is the Rugby World Cup,” he said.
“We have Chile first who will be coming to their first world cup and they will be targeting us,” he said.
“We also play Argentina the following week and they, as well as Japan, and England, who we play last will all be wanting to make it out of the pool stages.”
He said they will be counting on Manu Samoa fans all over the world to support them in their campaign.
Manu Samoa squad
Forwards: Michael Ala’alatoa, Brian Alainu’uese, Paul Alo-Emile, Michael Curry, So’otala Fa’aso’o, Miracle Fai’ilagi, Charlie Faumuina, Jack Lam, Seilala Lam, Titi Lamositele, Jordan Lay, Fritz Lee, Genesis Mamea-Lemalu, Steven Luatua, Sama Malolo, Theo McFarland, Alamanda Motuga, Ray Niuia, Taleni Seu, Samuel Slade, Jordan Taufua, Luteru Tolai, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Tietie Tuimauga, Chris Vui
Backs: Nigel Ah Wong, Ereatara Enari, Neria Fomai, Stacey Ili, Christian Leali’ifano, D’angelo Leuila, Tumua Manu, Melani Matavao, Tim Nanai-Williams, Duncan Paia’aua, UJ Seuteni, Lima Sopoaga, Martini Talapusi, Jonathan Taumateine, Danny Toala.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS