Samoa is getting ready to celebrate its 52nd year of Independence next week, in style.
This weekend, the celebration will kick off in a most fitting way –with rugby. On Thursday, the inaugural Samoa Independence International (S.I.I.) Sevens tournament will kick off at Apia Park with the Under 20s.
A day later, the main competition will field 48 teams in 16 pools of three, including three teams each from Fiji and American Samoa.
Organiser and Chairman of S.I.I. Sevens, Tole’afoa Stephen Schuster, said this is the first time an event of this calibre has been held in Samoa.
“It gives the local players a chance compete with players from Fiji’s top level,” he said.
“Most of these players from Fiji here, eighty per cent of them are involved in international Fiji Sevens side.
“It is just a matter of lifting our local player competition because at the moment with the local club competition they are playing the local clubs in and out each week.
“But with this tournament they have the chance to play against a higher club level.”
Tole’afoa said the Fijian teams are here to win.
“The Fijian teams will be the biggest threat to Samoa cinching the competition win,” he said. “Like I said, it is really up to the players to lift their standards to meet the teams from Fiji if they want to win.
“Because the guys from Fiji aren’t here just to play, they are here to win.”
He said one team to watch out for was the Fijian Wardens who have been ruling their local competition.
“The Fijian Wardens they are the ones who have been dominating the local tournaments in Fiji for the last two tournaments,” he said.
T.A.T.O.O.R.S Development squad coach, Tommy Elisara, echoed this notion.
“I think Bula – the Fijians,” Mr Elisara said.
“I hope the Samoans will take the tournament but the Fijians are really hard to beat.”
He said his team had been committed to training in the lead up to the tournament, with the recent 15s tournament helping keep the players’ fitness level up.
“We will go in on strategy, and I hope our boys will play well” he said.
“If we focus on what our game plan is going to be we will be fine.”
We preparing very well since we had the 15s competition in American Samoa so He said this competition was a great opportunity for the American Samoan Clubs.
“For us to expose rugby in American Samoa,” he said.
“Because you know rugby in American Samoa is not really popular, our boys usually play (American) football.
“So this is a chance for them to expose rugby to come and play at this kind of international level.”
Warden’s player and former National Sevens Rep for Fiji Risiate Tadulala said his while his team were here to win this weekend – he said with two other Fijian teams in the competition it would not be easy.
It is not his first time playing in Samoa – he represented the Auckland Marists here back in 2007.
“It is a privilege to be here in Samoa again,” he said.
“We are going to try to win this week’s tournament – we came here with two other teams from Fiji so it is not going to be easy for us to get to the top.
“So it is going to be a tough game but a good game as well.”
Tadulala said the competition was great for Pacific Rugby.
“Especially in the pacific because I know a lot of the Pacific countries their religion is rugby, especially in the island countries of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
“They normally play Sevens and they normally conquer the rest of the worlds teams form Sevens rugby.”
Keponi Paul from Fiji’s Police team said he wasn’t expecting an easy competition.
“It is my first time in Samoa and I am very excited to be in Samoa this week to play in the Sevens tournament,” he said.
“It will be a very tough competition we have got the top local teams from Fiji and maybe the best local in Sevens team in Samoa.
“So we are looking forward to the final on this weekend.”
He said the competition would be hard work because they are playing on Samoan soil.
“It will take a lot of hard work – because they have their home crowd here so we have to be ready.
“This is the Sevens, so at the end of the day it could be anyone’s game.”
Toleafoa said S.I.I. was in partnership with both Fiji’s Bailys Coral Coast Sevens and Australia’s Central Coast Sevens.
“Our aim is to create a high level of competition between island countries at a club level,” he said.
He said because of this the highest placed Samoan club in the SI.I. Seven’s tournament will go onto represent Samoa in Fiji.
The Tournament will kick-off this Thursday at Apia Park with general admission free.
APIA, (SAMOA OBSERVER)