Samoa’s female 15s players will return to the international fold in Fiji later this week following a four-year absence.
Manusina will face Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Fiji in the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship, which takes place in Lautoka from 16-24 November, and the net has been cast wide as head coach Ramsey Tomokino built his squad.
Trials were held in Auckland, Wellington and Sydney while the 26-player squad has been based in New Zealand during preparations for their first test action in 51 months.
Only three women remain from the previous squad to represent Samoa on the international stage, at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 – their last outing being a 31-0 victory over Kazakhstan in the 11th place play-off in France.
It is perhaps unsurprising to learn, therefore, that success in Fiji this month will not be judged solely in terms of results.
Instead Zane Hilton, the Samoa Rugby Union’s (SRU) General Manager of High Performance, insists that success will simply be “that every woman then continues to play next year.”
Manusina’s re-entry into international rugby is built on improved domestic competitions in both sevens and 15s.
Qualification for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 is the SRU’s ultimate goal, but after so long out of the fold Tomokino’s primary task in Lautoka is to make sure his players enjoy representing their country.
“This year (the aim) is around the experience being a quality one so they all then take that back, we have more women playing the game and we build our base. And then we can look at the competitiveness,” Hilton added.
“So, I think hopefully they all then go back to their clubs, they’ve learnt something, had a great experience and then they want to continue on and be a part of it.
“Especially the off-island girls, they want to commit to playing for Samoa again and Manusina, it’s important for us because they could quite easily play for New Zealand.”
Indeed, the SRU hope that proud Samoan Tomokino – who will be assisted in Fiji by former Manusina player Cynthia Ta’ala – can help pass on some of his patriotism to the squad.
“That was the number one reason why we wanted him to do it, to be honest,” Hilton said. “Just because we knew the experience would be good, we knew the girls would have fun, we knew that they’d enjoy playing for Samoa and he’s such a strong Samoan.
“That was important to us, that that culture, even though they’re based off the island, that Samoan culture was really important for us – that it resonates with the Manusina side.”
Samoa were unable to qualify for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 in Ireland due to the lack of a domestic competition in the country. Although the 26-strong squad that will compete in Fiji is drawn exclusively from those based in Australia and New Zealand, Hilton
says the SRU has “re-energised our women’s programme”.
A three-team 15s competition has been launched and runs alongside an eight-team sevens tournament in the Pacific Island nation.
That domestic push has enabled Manusina to end their time in the international wilderness, and Hilton is hopeful that the team can be exposed to a fuller fixture list now they’re back.
“A big thing for us is probably around making sure we get more test matches,” he said. “So we’re talking locally with Fiji, Tonga, Australia, New Zealand in Oceania around how do we get more test matches for the women leading into those games in November.
“So, a big discussion for us around what that looks like, how we shape our local competition but the exciting thing is that within one year we’ve gone from eight teams, to three 15s teams, to now girls and women playing in the national programme.”
And as Manusina prepare to take their first steps back in the test arena they can be sure of passionate support from those back in Samoa.
“Obviously it’s the first time in four years so everyone’s excited to see them back,” Hilton said.