Former Crusaders in Manu Samoa squad to face All Blacks

Two former Canterbury Crusaders were named in the Samoa squad announced yesterday to play the All Blacks on 16 June at Eden Park.

Kieron Fonotia who held up the Crusaders midfield until he left to play for Welsh club Osprey last year is one of eight new players called up by Head Coach Namulauulu Alama Ieremia. While former first, and second five eighth Aaron Mauger has joined the squad as an Assistant Coach.

“I am very humbled and excited about this opportunity,” Mauger said in a press statement.

“Manu Samoa Rugby has always had a strong place in my heart due to family bloodlines and I have always been a close follower and proud supporter of the team over the years.”

Mauger who is also a former All Black and nephew of 1991 World Cup Manu Samoa first-five Stephen Bachop, made the decision to join after speaking with Namulauulu earlier in the year.

“I feel very privileged to be able to join the team and help them through a very important period in Samoa Rugby.

“This team is a great fit for me and the timing is good. The opportunity to work alongside some good people in a team that has a rich culture and strong connections with its people appeals to me immensely.”

Pacific Guardians reports the match against the All Blacks is the first of four tests the Manu will play in the June test window. The other three include the all important 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifying matches against rivals Tonga and Fiji; and a one-off test against Wales.

With a number of front-line players missing due to injury, head coach Namuluaulu Alama said the squad represented a solid mix of experience and new and upcoming talent.

“We have some very experienced players in the squad, but we have also ensured we inject some new energy into this playing group,” he said.

“Samoa Rugby has been going through a period of healthy change, and we believe we’ve picked a solid squad for the upcoming season.”

The team will be captained by the indefatigable David Lemi who plies his trade with the Bristol Club.

Even though the squad announcement was made yesterday, the promotion and support of the team, especially its 16 June date with the All Blacks by the Samoa Rugby Union kicked off last week at the new Fale Samoa in Mangere Auckland.

Headed by Prime Minister and Chairman of Samoa Rugby Union (SRU) Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi it was a golden opportunity to re-engage with Samoan communities living overseas, according to him.

“No other sport comes close to the obsession and passion the people have for the Manu Samoa team,” he said.  And that despite the challenges faced by Samoan rugby, he called on Samoan communities in New Zealand and around the world to rally for Manu Samoa.”

This message was echoed by SRU CEO Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i, that despite previous criticism and challenges faced by the Samoa Rugby Union, they were in a rebuilding phase, with new coach Namulauulu Alama and a new programme for identifying and developing junior players in Samoa.

Faleomavaega pointed out that benefits are still being reaped from the historic first Samoa vs All Blacks test played in Samoa. It showed Samoa was well equipped and capable of hosting Tier One Rugby matches. And as a result, countries like Wales, France and England were knocking on the door to play Manu Samoa.

The other critical benefit from these events is the exposure at the international level of Samoa as a tourism destination. The televised test matches at Eden Park to Europe and Asia will be big for Samoa added Faleomavaega.  And with SRU tightening up on branding around Manu Samoa, this would help earn further revenue for the team as well.