Jack Lam eyes fairytale finish with Manu Samoa

Veteran Manu Samoa flanker Jack Lam is weighing up his future as he looks to help his country qualify for the next Rugby World Cup.

The former Test captain was the most capped player (38) named in a new-look Samoan squad to play the Māori All Blacks and Tonga in June and July, with a number of overseas based stars unavailable because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Lam is a free agent after spending the past two seasons with Japanese club NEC Green Rockets and, at 33, is not sure what his rugby future holds.

"At my stage of my career there's not much of my good days ahead of me left so if I can leave with the team qualified for the next World Cup I'd be very happy to leave on that note," he admitted.

"I'm just going to take it campaign by campaign and even just after this campaign I'm not sure what's going to happen next. With the Covid and stuff, missing out on a lot of family time with a newborn I'm not keen on missing out on too much more family time."

Lam was recently reunited with his partner and three kids in New Zealand after being separated for close to nine months.

He said it was especially tough being away from his youngest, who was born in January last year.

"I missed out on quite a number of milestones. When I left he was still on his back and breastfed and I come back and he's running around, talking and feeding himself so I missed out on a lot while I was away."

Lam was born in Hamilton but moved to Canberra at a young age and was selected for the Australian Secondary Schools and Australia Under 19s in the mid 2000s.

He returned to New Zealand and made his provincial debut for Tasman in 2008 before switching to Waikato the following year. A Super Rugby debut followed in 2011 and the openside even kept a young Ardie Savea out of the number seven jersey for much of his final campaign in 2014.

Lam made his test debut in Manu Samoa's 27-19 win over Scotland in 2013, with his first three appearances coinciding with the final three matches of Seilala Mapusua's test career.

The former Highlanders midfielder is now the head coach of the Manu and Lam is more than happy to take orders from his friend and former teammate.

"We're still the same off the field and then as soon as we cross that line we still know that our va, or our relationship, that happens on the field as well - he's the coach and I am the player and his work speaks for itself in what he's done in rugby," he said.

"It's quite exciting with having him, a former player as well. He's been in and around, knows all the ins and out of Samoan rugby and hopefully he can bring all that experience and then some fresh new ideas with the fresh new blood that's coming in as well."

Some of that fresh new blood is expected to sign on the dotted line with the new Moana Pasifika team that is poised to join an expanded Super Rugby competition next season, alongside the Fijian Drua.

Lam followed the well-trodden path of many Pacific Island rugby players who ultimately headed offshore to make their living. He believed the inclusion of Moana Pasifika will be a gamechanger for rugby in the region.

"It's a big massive win for even the guys that went before us who tried to pave the way for the Pacific and Island nations - trying to get us recognised on the world stage - and then obviously everyone's had to go ply their trade across different countries," he said.

"But having that team now in New Zealand a lot of credit has to go back to those guys, the older boys who have fought for that team, which I think is important for our Pacific nations in having a Pacific team here in the Southern Hemisphere where our boys don't have to go overseas and look for a job."

Lam is conscious that his time as a professional rugby player is coming to a close. He doesn't know what the future holds beyond the next two months and if this is it he will be content and proud of the career he has had.

The former Hurricanes and Bristol Bears loose forward is happy to be back in "the safest place in the world" with his loved ones and with World Cup qualifying matches against Tonga in Auckland and Hamilton on the horizon, the Waikato born back rower is eyeing a fairytale finish in his home-town.

"All those games are just as important as the other. Those Māori games, those will be awesome games just to warm us up for what is, I guess, the pinnacle or the key for this campaign, which is to qualify for the World Cup.

"It would be pretty nice hopefully going to Hamilton one leg up on Tonga, hopefully, and then finishing off the job, and all goes well we've qualified."