Samoa set for new era under Punivalu
By Tom Chick
Off the back of a successful win at last weekend’s Oceania Sevens, Samoa are full of confidence heading into the opening round of the HSBC Sevens World Series on Australia’s Gold Coast.
With a new coach at the helm, the Pacific Islanders went unbeaten last weekend to lift the title in Fiji, beating the hosts, who were also under the guidance of a new coach in Ben Ryan, in the final, as well as this weekends hosts Australia in the pool stages.
With several young players impressing Viliamu Punivalu, the new head coach faced some difficult selection decisions before coming to his first-ever HSBC Sevens World Series tournament.
“Last weekend in Fiji we had eight new players to the international level,” said Punivalu.
“Those eight are now cut down to five for this weekend after some analysis. We have eight in total from the win however, with four more coming in who were left to train in Samoa.
“Last weekend was a big ask for the boys. I think we were the smallest and youngest team at the tournament and how I looked at it was that it built character and morale. The boys proved they wanted to be here this weekend, and they are.”
One to watch
Blending experience and youth could work well for the Samoans under Punivalu, who rose to fame in 2011 after coaching an undefeated side in a local competition before moving to Samoa A and then Samoa U20s at this year’s Junior World Championship in France.
The four players welcomed back into the 12-man squad bring previous Sevens experience with them which may add to the likes of Misioka Timoteo, who Punivalu compared to Ofisa Treviarnus and Alafotio Fa’osiliva after scoring twice in the final in Fiji.
“I have been after him [Timoteo] for a while,” added Punivalu.
“I coached him at club level and we have been working hard on him since. It is interesting because he is like Alafoti and Ofisa, with the same size and speed, so it will be interesting to see him in action this weekend.
“With the Sevens squad there is more time with the players individually, more time to evaluate strengths and weaknesses, and start building a team culture that makes players perform to their optimum best.
“I am very passionate about what I do as a coach and I am very happy to be here.
This weekend Samoa will face matches against Argentina, Scotland and Australia - all of whom will pose a different test.
But with a side from Oceania having won the last four Cup titles at the Australian round of the Series, could this be Samoa’s year having last lifted the title in Adelaide in 2010 en route to their World Series title?
“We can’t get carried away from last weekend. Australia are a strong side, and we have a difficult pool, with Argentina and Scotland.
“We are not here to make up the numbers though, if the boys turn up on the day there is a possibility we can win it. We are here to play our best rugby, and we are excited for the weekend.”
For more information on the Samoan Sevens squad, you can follow their movements on Twitter @manusamoa, or @irbsevens.