Coach Selects Strong 14-Man Squad for Paris Olympics

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Manu Samoa's Olympic reps were 'next-level' for their local clubs at the recent Marist International 7s. L-R: Taunuu Niulevaea of BSP Laumua o Tumua, Motu Opetai of Siumu, BJ Telefoni Lima of Marist and Vaafauese Apelu Maliko of Tepatasi. PHOTOS: Newsline Samoa.

9 July 2024 Lakapi Samoa, Tuanaimato Apia. Manu Samoa 7s Head Coach, Muliagatele Fata Brian Lima, has announced a strong 14-man mostly local squad to represent Samoa at the upcoming Paris Olympic Games set to be held at Stade de France, St Denis, Paris from 25 – 28 July 2024 (Samoa time).

The Marist International 7s competition was always dubbed as the final trials for the Olympic team and the Head Coach would have been happy with the next-level performances his squad members put on for their respective clubs.

World Rugby’s 2022-2023 Top Try Scorer and Player of the Year, Vaafauese Apelu Maliko has been named to lead the national side as Captain of the Olympic squad.

The line-up sees the selection of former Super Rugby Pacific backliner, Lalomilo Lalomilo who is named as the only debutant in the Olympic squad. Currently contracted to Moana Pasifika, the former De La Salle first XV captain and NZ Under 20s rep debuted in Super Rugby for the Chiefs in Round 10 of the 2023 season against the Crusaders.

Former NZ Under 20s, Bay of Plenty, Chiefs and current Moana Pasifika rep Lalomilo Lalomilo brings his power running and crunch tackles to the mix.

Returning to Samoa 7s for the Olympics, Lalomilo played in the backline for his host side Marist St Joseph’s Sports Club at the recent Marist International 7s and made the tournament Dream Team with his combination of power and speed. The 25-year-old transitioned to the 7s format from 15s with ease.

Moana Pasifika flanker and former Manu Samoa 15s veteran, Alamanda Motuga has returned to the Manu Samoa 7s for the Olympics. The power forward was part of the Manu Samoa 7s team who won the Paris leg of HSBC in 2016 when Fata Brian Lima was the Assistant Coach.

Manu Samoa 7s winning the 2016 Paris HSBC leg under Head Coach Damien McGrath and Assistant Coach Fata Brian Lima.

The Manu Samoa 7s has had more than its fair share of injuries this season, however, the recent Marist International 7s provided the perfect platform to test for full recovery of players returning from injury, and all squad members vying for a spot performed at 💯 percent both physically and mentally.

Co-Skipper Vaovasa Afa-Sua at 32 proved once again that age is just a number, returning from injury to play the Marist 7s for his Tamauli club, and showed full form during the squad’s final trials held last weekend in Apia.

The Manu Samoa 7s extended squad after two gruesome days of trials held 4-5 July 2024.

Returning from injury BJ Telefoni Lima made a statement as the standout forward of the Marist 7s, showing his on-field leadership to help take his side to the finals. The tallest player in the squad at 6’4″ Telefoni Lima was also selected in the tournament Dream Team with a stellar all-round performance.

Video Insert: Telefoni Lima steps past Taunuu Niulevaea and fends off Johnnie Samuelu in the quarterfinal match of the Marist International 7s, Apia Park, June 2024.

Playmaker Paul Scanlan has worked hard at his rehab programme to make a full recovery from a wrist operation he had in May. He featured for his TIR Moataa Whites at the recent Marist 7s. With 112 international 7s matches for his country, the veteran is a welcomed return for Samoa’s Olympic squad.

Veteran Paul Scanlan has made a courageous return from injury after an operation on his wrist in May.

The perfect combination of power and prowess in the forwards is provided by Taunuu Niulevaea, who featured for BSP Laumua o Tumua at the Marist 7s.

Siumu’s ellusive Motu Opetai completes the excellent pool of forwards selected for the Paris Olympics.

For the halfback position Head Coach Lima has gone with the lil man with the biggest heart in the game. None other than Laulii Lions’ Neueli Leitufia who is known for benching twice his weight.

Laulii’s Paul Eti Alesana-Slater, Steve Rimoni Onosai of Vaiala Ulalei and Tom Maiava of Marist with ‘next-level’ performances during the recent Marist 7s.

The leadership of the ever so reliable Paul Eti Alesana-Slater adds to the strength of the Manu 7’s Olympic backline, noting that Eti has also played in the forwards for Samoa when the Manu has needed him to this season.

Lima’s backline options includes first five Tom Maiava who debuted for Samoa 7s at the Pacific Games 2023, helping to bring home the silver medal. Maiava is a former Sydney F45 gym coach.

Vaovasa Afa-Sua, Faafoi Falaniko and Vaafauese Apelu Maliko.

The man with the boot. Faafoi Falaniko who kicked Samoa into the Championship title in South Africa and also featured in Tepatasi’s recent win at the Marist International 7s.

The sensational Steve Rimoni Onosai has worked hard to return to full blown form for the Olympics after a string of injuries this season. He and the youngest in the team, Malakesi Masefau, are Samoa’s speedsters in the 14-man squad.

The Olympic 7s tournament allows for 12 players and the selection from 14 will need to be further refined in the coming weeks.

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Samoa is in Pool B with Australia, Argentina and Kenya. The top two teams from each pool, plus the top two 3rd placed teams will advance to the quarterfinals.

“It has been a long and difficult road,” Head Coach Fata Brian Lima told local media at the farewell ceremony with SASNOC earlier this week.

“All countries have invested heavily into their Olympic team preparations and Samoa has to step up and compete with the larger countries.”

Prime Minister Fiame Dr Naomi Mataafa took time out to farewell the Manu Samoa 7s Team, Mon 8 July 2024.

“As a nation with a population of two hundred thousand, we are grateful for the opportunity to compete against the best in the world..”

“All teams are heading to Paris for Gold and Samoa are no different,” stressed Lima. “We are prepared and will do our very best for the sake of our Samoa supporters at home and around the world.”

Lima took over the reigns of the Manu Samoa 7s from Sir Gordon Tietjens in August 2020, after Samoa had failed to qualify for both the 2016 and 2020 summer Olympics.

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In November 2023, Samoa 7s Rugby qualified for the first time in history for the Olympics, in Muliagatele’s third year as Head Coach.

Lima had named 45 players in his first squad four years ago. Over the past four years, many talented players originally selected have dropped out of the squad for various reasons. Some unable to handle daily trainings and some for disciplinary reasons.

“It all comes down to the Olympic Games,” said the Head Coach.

Prime Minister Fiame hosted the Manu Samoa 7s Olympic team at the special cabinet meeting rooms of the F.M.F.M. II Government Building.

The Prime Minister blessed the Head Coach, his management and all the players, who had the opportunity to stand and introduce themselves.

“O fa’atasi ma Le Atua, ma fa’amoemoe i le mana lavea’i o le Matai Sili e puipuia ma foa’i atu le malosi ma le poto, a’o feagai ai ma lea fa’agatama auā se ‘ai mo le tapuā’iga leoleoa a Samoa e ala i se pine auro.”

The Government of Samoa has a $100,000 tala pledge for any athlete who brings home Gold from the Olympic games.

Manu Samoa 7s Olympic team with parents, family and supporters at the airport. Tues 9 July 2024.

The Manu Samoa 7s Team left Faleolo International Airport on Tuesday 9th July 2024 for Geneva, Switzerland where they will be camped for two weeks in final preparation for the Olympic tournament.