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SAM team announcement (v CHI): head coach Mapusua, Alaalatoa, Vui, Luatua, Paia’aua

BORDEAUX – Comments from Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua, co-captains Michael Alaalatoa and Chris Vui, number eight Steven Luatua and versatile back Duncan Paia’aua ahead of their match against Chile in Pool D at Stade de Bordeaux on Saturday, 16 September.

Seilala Mapusua, head coach

On the idea behind having two co-captains:

“I’m blessed to have some really good leaders in my team and this tournament is going to take a squad effort. If the responsibility can be shared and if you’ve got the leaders to do it [have co-captains], then I think it’s a real positive.

“It keeps the flow of the messages to the boys, so I’m very blessed to have these two fine men that will lead our team through the World Cup.”

On how co-captains will work practically on the pitch:

“We’ll let you know on Saturday (laughs). We have a group of leaders on the field that will be doing the driving, but one of these guys will be nominated to speak to the ref throughout the game.”

On his message to the team for the match against Chile:

“This is our first game at the Rugby World Cup and it feels like we’ve been waiting a long time. There’s been a lot of managing the energy levels and making sure we don’t over-stimulate ourselves before the weekend.

“The team we’ve selected is strong. We want to start well and put our best foot forward, so the message to the boys has been giving Chile the respect they deserve and making sure we do our people proud.”

On Samoa’s preparation through their fixture list between World Cups and whether he is satisfied with the number of top teams Samoa have been able to play:

“The short answer would be ‘no’. I’ve been in the role for three years now and in that time we’ve played nine or potentially 10 test matches.

“When we played Ireland a few weeks ago, that was the second tier-one team we played since the 2019 World Cup, [the other one was] Italy last year. So in terms of preparing to compete I think a lot more can be done, a lot more meaningful games that will help us prepare for the pinnacle event.”

On the changes to World Rugby’s eligibility rules and how that has affected Samoa:

“Obviously the eligibility laws have helped grow the pool of players I can select from, which is a real positive, and we’re getting high-quality players in that group.”

On Chile and where he expects them to pose a threat:

“They were brilliant last week [in the 42-12 defeat by Japan]. They are playing in their first World Cup and we know they are going to be really passionate and very good in the contact area.

“Their half-back, Marcelo Torrealba, I thought he was fantastic last week and was a real threat, as was their full-back. Also their forward pack, we know they’re going to be a physical team, they like to throw the ball around, quite similar to us, so if we’re not at our best we could get found out.

“They’re a team that will continue to build as the game goes on if things are going their way so we’ll have to try and contain them and nullify them and implement our own game on Saturday.”

On the selection of Christian Leali’ifano in the starting line-up and Lima Sopoaga on the bench:

“They’re very similar in their roles and I expect them to control the game and manage our team over the full 80 minutes. Having two high-quality playmakers that’s unheard of for us so we feel very lucky and blessed.

“Whether it’s Christian starting with Lima coming on or the other way around, I know we’ll have the same quality for 80 minutes and that’s an exciting thing for me.”

Michael Alaalatoa, co-captain and prop

On the feeling of anticipation or impatience as one of the last teams to play first game at Rugby World Cup 2023:

“I wouldn’t say impatience but definitely a sense of anticipation. What comes with playing at a World Cup is a bit of nerves and excitement, so it’s been a challenge to try to contain that, but the coaches and management team have done a really good job to set us up and preserve that energy for the game against Chile.”

On wearing the Samoa jersey:

“You can’t really describe it, it’s a huge honour. Something we talk about is that the team is built on what’s gone before us. The jersey represents more than just the players, it represents our people, our country, our culture, everything that makes us Samoan, so when you put that jersey on it comes with a lot of responsibility.

“The buzz you get wearing the Samoan jersey, it’s an awesome one.”

Chris Vui, co-captain and lock

On playing at the World Cup against Chile:

“Everyone is excited to play their first game of the tournament. Obviously the goal is to get out of this pool and make it to the quarter-finals.”

Steven Luatua, back-row

On representing Samoa after previously representing New Zealand:

“Obviously growing up in New Zealand I had a lot of respect for the culture there, learning about the haka and the Maori customs and ways. And now joining this group the Samoan culture really hits different and it’s been very special to be part of this group, to reconnect and make my family proud.”

Duncan Paia’aua, centre

On the number of players in Samoa starting line-up who play in France and how that might help the team:

“Obviously it’s good that the World Cup is here in France, where I live now. We’re accustomed to French fans and how passionate they are and how loud they can be in the stadiums, and I think the boys that don’t play in France will really enjoy the atmosphere and it will give them a lot of energy.”

On playing at full-back:

“It’s not my natural position, but I have played a couple of games there in my professional career.

“I love the physical part of it, I love getting more time with the ball, I can choose where I run. Covering the back field and stuff, I’ve been lucky to have time the past few weeks to learn where to be on the field. That’s the stuff I’ve got to work on.”

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