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ASRU gets ready to compete internationally

Seagull Head Coach Tommy Elisara and Manager Annie Coffin with ASRU officials
2023 Oceania Rugby 7s Championship & the 17th Pacific Games

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The American Samoa Rugby Union is getting ready to send a men’s and women’s national teams to two back-to-back international fixtures early next month.

The first one is the 2023 Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship which will be hosted for the first time at Ballymore Stadium in Brisbane, Australia and is slated to be held on 10-12 November.

It is the premier rugby event on the Oceania calendar, being the only competition open to all 17 Member Unions and Associate Members from across the region, and is significant as select teams will be vying for one spot in each of the men’s and women’s sections for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The 2023 Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship features 25 teams — 15 men’s teams and 10 women’s teams from 14 countries and territories in the region participating. A total of 18 teams will be vying for Olympics qualification.

The top-placed men’s and top-placed women’s teams in the Olympic qualification sections will qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The women’s Olympic section of the tournament will feature American Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu all vying for the sole qualification spot to Paris 2024.

The Territory’s national women’s sevens team has been named “Segaula” after the green parrot found in only a few parts of the Samoan islands due to its declining numbers. It is very hard to spot because it blends in with the foliage which contrasts with the red feathers on the lower part of its face and blue at the top of its head.

According to the Segaula Head Coach Tommy Elisara, this is a very special opportunity because it will see the American Samoa women’s team make their International Sevens debut.

However, Coach Elisara revealed that there are a few challenges they are facing such as the eligibility rules of the tournament which stipulates that team members from Pacific islands which are territories of other countries like American Samoa and Guam, must possess American (US) passports.

He stated that they have managed to overcome this obstacle by recruiting seven players from the mainland who will join five local players who are US passport holders to make up the 12-member squads from each competing team.

“Women’s participation in sevens rugby is relatively new,” Coach Elisara pointed out. “And most of our best players were born in Samoa but have relocated here which is why we have had to recruit from the mainland. We need to introduce the sport in local schools and hold competitions for high school teams because there is a lot of raw talent out there that need to be developed.

“It is very important that we include sevens rugby in the high school sports curriculum because the sport is picking up a lot of popularity in the mainland, and it our kids, both boys and girls have the physique for contact sports like this. It can also provide sports scholarships for our high school students to get through college.”

The American Samoa Seagull squad is currently training at the Veterans’ Memorial Stadium at Tafuna-Iliili from Mondays to Wednesdays, then on Thursdays, they have body-toning workouts at the Sau Ia Gym at Tafuna, Fridays at Lion’s Park and scrimmages at the Stadium on Saturdays after the high school football games.

In an interview with Oceania Rugby, President of the American Samoa Rugby Union Falefata Moli Lemana expressed his delight at the progress the union has made in developing the women’s sevens rugby.

“After 12 years of becoming a full member of World Rugby, the struggles of putting together a women's team to represent American Samoa in the world stage of rugby was surreal,” stated Falefata. “It was very difficult.  Not only is rugby not an American sport, but the mentality of our local people, that rugby is a sport only for men. 

“Nevertheless, we did not give up. Although very few in numbers we explored every avenue to ensure there will be women teams in all of our competitions. The people of American Samoa are very proud in supporting for the first time American Samoa's women's team’s participation in this year's Oceania Olympic Qualifier Tournament. The American Samoa Women’s team, Segaula look forward to bringing their excitement to Brisbane!”

The Segaula coaching staff comprises Head Coach Tommy Elisara, Manager Annie Coffin and Physio-Trainer Fiona Traill.

The American Samoa national teams’ (men’s and women’s) travel and accommodation is funded by Oceania Rugby while ASRU will fund their overnight expenses in Apia before they leave for Australia on November 5, 2023.

The men’s team called “Talavalu” named after one of the weapons Samoan warriors used in combat in ancient days is coached by Head Coach Joko Asotau assisted by Manager Bellasio Koroiadi.

The American Samoa sevens teams are set to arrive back from Brisbane, Australia on November 13, 2023 and leave the very next day for the 17th Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands with the rest of the American Samoa delegation to the Games on a charter flight!

“It’s gonna be a long haul for us,” Coach Elisara said. “But there’s nothing we can do because a Solomon Island Airways special flight has been chartered for the whole American Samoa delegation. The sevens competition doesn’t start until November 26th and the chartered return flight departs Honiara on December 5th!”

He stated that this has posed problems for the Segaula team because their members from the mainland have to return after the tournament in Brisbane, Australia because of work commitments while others are studying at colleges and universities.

However, the Segaula coach explained that he has managed to solve this problem by having local players standby to make up the team competing in the Pacific Games.

“Fortunately, the eligibility rules in the Pacific Games are more flexible and allow non-US passport holders to represent American Samoa,” Elisara explained.

American Samoa will be represented at the 17th Pacific Games in 11 sports.

President of the American Samoa Rugby Union Falefata Moli Lemana (right) presenting a monetary prize to the captain of the Laulii Sevens team, which won the final of this year’s ASRU Summer Sevens Tournament against Avele. [photo: Asi A. Fa’asau]