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Marlborough Express - 2021-11-26

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Samoa coach ready to swoop

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Manu Samoa coach Seilala Mapusua is relishing the influx of talent suddenly available to him after the huge World Rugby eligibility change made yesterday, and has identified one-test All Black Josh Ioane as a potential target for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Players such as Steven Luatua, Ben Lam, Lolagi Visinia, George Moala, Jeff Toomaga-allen and Lima Sopoaga are now eligible for Manu Samoa, effective immediately, after World Rugby voted to allow players to switch nations after observing a three-year standdown from test rugby. And, should Ioane not be selected by the All Blacks next year, Mapusua will swoop for the Chiefs new No 10. ‘‘You’ve got guys like Josh Ioane, who have played one test for the All Blacks, Josh has been playing some awesome footy at the moment,’’ Mapusua told Stuff yesterday. ‘‘It’s exciting to possibly be able to call on that calibre of player. ‘‘And you’ve also got your upand-coming players, the likes of D’angelo Leuila, who had an awesome NPC [for Waikato], and just being able to have that depth and competition for positions will strengthen the team. ‘‘It hasn’t always been the case for Manu Samoa, but now we’ve got options and this genuine competition, and healthy competition. It can only be a good thing.’’ Ioane won his sole All Blacks cap against Tonga in 2019, and will therefore become eligible for Manu Samoa in 2022 under the new eligibility rules, which Stuff understands squeaked through by one vote at the World Rugby council vote. Mapusua said Ioane, 26, would be in his ‘‘prime’’ as a player at the 2023 World Cup, underlining how the vote could transform Manu Samoa into the highly competitive side for their Pool D fixtures against England, Argentina, Japan and the second qualifier from the Americas. The enormity of the change was not lost on an emotional Mapusua, the respected former Otago, Highlanders and Manu Samoa midfielder. From his base in Samoa, Mapusua said his reaction was one of disbelief and delight when he found out the vote had passed in the small hours of yesterday morning, having gone to bed anxious and convinced it would be rejected. ‘‘First, there was disbelief that it has happened in my lifetime,’’ Mapusua said. ‘‘And second, I think there was more relief followed by elation. ‘‘I think there’s been a group of people working hard on this and there’s been a lot of conversations and time gone into it, and I’m just really happy that the work that’s been done in the background has paid off.’’ Mapusua played a key role in that work, making his points clear to Joe Schmidt – the under-theradar champion for Pasifika rugby who made the final in-person presentation to World Rugby before the vote was taken. ‘‘My point was that we don’t have a lot of resources in the islands, but this is one small change we can tap into,’’ Mapusua said. ‘‘It’s not going to mean that we’re going to win every test match, but it does go a long way in terms of strengthening our team. ‘‘The main thing is being competitive, and we had some quality players that have been sitting on the sidelines just watching for the last few years.’’ However, it appears the change might have come a whisker too late for former All Blacks midfielder Ngani Laumape. Ngani Laumape, a proud Tongan, last played for the All Blacks against Australia on November 7, 2020. That means the 2023 World Cup may come too early for him – by a whisker.

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