The American Samoa national rugby team made its debut Friday after gaining official IRB sanction earlier this year.
Playing in a 7s tournament in Hawaii as part of Samoan Heritage Week, the American Samoa Talavalu won, beating the Tama Laie Lions in the final 29-10.
Talavalu, which is what the American Samoan team is called (it’s a war club with shark teeth embedded in it), was outstanding and won in front of an enthusiastic Togiola Tulafano, the Governor of American Samoa.
The Hawaiian Islanders beat the Kalihi Raiders 28-0 to take third. The Laie Lions Bs won 5th 17-7 over Hawaii Marist.
Talavalu dominated early on, but faced a stern test from the Tama Laie Lions, which played in the National Club Championships the week before. But American Samoa had too much pace, led by the blazing Peter Masoi.
American Samoa Coach Leota Setefano said his team needed this tournament to prepare for the Oceania World Cup Qualifiers in two weeks.
Fiji, New Zealand, and Samoa already have qualified, but two spots from Oceania remain, with Australia favored to take one.
“We feel we have a really good shot,” said Setefano.
The American Samoan team prepared for this tournament with several days at the Samoan High Performance center in Apia. There, the American Samoan players said, they were welcomed with open arms by their Western Samoan neighbors.
American Samoan athletes can qualify for to play for the USA. As US Nationals, they qualify for the Eagles, but can also play for American Samoa in their own international competitions. As we understand it, however, players must make a decision and stick with one.
Several USA players have qualified for the USA because they were born in American Samoa, notable Mose Timoteo, and the brothers Shalom, Roland, and Andrew Suniula.
Governor Tulafano told the players at the tournament that American Samoa is still looking for players, and encouraged athletes to consider moving to Pago Pago to play rugby.
Meanwhile Tama Laie Lions saw some good performances from Michael Tuia, Kali Volavola, and especially Ben Mamea.
“We were a young team,” said Volavola. “But over this summer we have really gelled, and I am proud of what they’ve done.”
This tournament was small, but a huge example of the kind of talent and ability that is available in the Pacific. American Samoa is now fielding a national team, and they could be very good. Meanwhile, Hawaii, which sent six players on the High School All American tour, and one with the U20s at the Junior World Rugby Trophy (Mamea could have been picked too, but his interest in football was an obstacle. Mamea said Friday that rugby is his focus now).
And Mike Palefau, another Hawaiian, is playing superbly for the USA 7s team. Rumors abound that Leonard Peters may well be returning to elite-level 7s.