The World Cup tournament in England is about to get tougher

England’s bid to win the Rugby World Cup in France next year is about to get tougher as Samoa aims to add former All Blacks team Lima Sopoaga and Steve Luwatwa to their Pacific Nations Cup winning team, although the inclusion of 103 caps with Maa Nonu appears unlikely.

Coach Celala Mabusua has revealed his plans for RugbyPass as he plans to challenge his country in France in 2023 where they are in Group D with England, Argentina, Japan and Chile.

Mabusua is hopeful that Bristol’s Luatwa and Soboaga, formerly Highlanders and Wasps outside the half that is now with Lyon in France, will be available for their tests in November which sees the Pacific island nation compete with Italy, Georgia and Romania.

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Many Samoan fans would also like to see 40-year-old Nuno, a legend of the All Blacks, but Mabusua said: ‘The midfielders come and it’s about building on what we started.’

After beating hosts Fiji, Tonga and Australia A to win the PNC title, Mabusua is eager to test his players against the Tier 1 nations but should be content with just one match against Italy which is currently ranked 14th in the world putting it three places behind Samoa.

A Samoa squad flew under the radar at the PNC as attention focused on Tonga who included Israel Fulau, Charles Peutau and Malaki Viquetua who all changed their countries under the new World Rugby Qualification Criteria that allows a player to play for another country – if he meets the criteria – after not playing rugby international for three years.

Soboaga won his last of his 16 caps in 2017, while Luwatwa won his 15th cap for New Zealand in 2016 against Italy, and will join the Samoa squad that already includes recent arrivals Fritz Lee, who enjoyed an impressive career with Clermont Auvergne and the former. New Zealand national under-20 team Jordan Tofua plays in Lyon.

The team has been strengthened with the inclusion of players now part of the Moana Pasifika Super Rugby Pacific squad who ensured that the step of climbing for the Rugby Test wasn’t too daunting.

The addition of Sopoaga and Luatua is the next step for Mapusua in his attempt to change perceptions about Samoa and make it a viable option for twice-eligible players, particularly in New Zealand. The former Samoa Center said 33 times rugby bass: “Steven Lutowa would be a great acquisition for us and it would be a good problem to have Fritz Lee, Jordan Toveh and Henry Storrs available with players who are already important members of our squad.

Frances Sayle, Stephen Luatwa and Charlie Fomoena could theoretically represent Manu Samoa next year. (Photo by Andrew Koringa/Photosport)

“Lima is a possibility as well and it’s about working with players who have a real desire to be part of the team. It’s not just about throwing all the ex-blacks out there when they qualify.

“Jordan have always qualified for Samoa and last year they got injured and it was great to finally play. We also have Fritz Lee from Clermont and having these two guys with their vast experience was great because they are top class players and with the eligibility changes it doesn’t mean that everything changes overnight but There are a few more I’m talking to that will be if he’s fit and ready and we’ll see them in November.”

Mapusua’s goal is to make Samoa the first choice for eligible young players, and he believes Moana Pasifika’s entry into the Super Rugby Pacific Championships was key to helping win the PNC title in Fiji.

He added: “We wouldn’t have gone to Fiji if we didn’t think we could have won the cup. The key for us was that there had to be a team effort to win it and we knew there was a lot of talk about Tonga and Fiji and that Australia A was going to be tough and had to make faith. “He’s there for us. We got together very early and made the boys understand their goal which narrows our focus and gets into the games.”

“The boys are in much better shape than we were in the past thanks to Moana Pasifika and while that first season was always going to be tough for them after seven months as professional players and to live and breathe that was huge for us. The players weren’t coming straight from the rugby club to test rugby, This has allowed us to spend less time getting the boys to catch up and more time in the way we want to play.

“We have tests in November with Italy, Georgia and Romania, and from now until the World Cup it will be our only level one match with Italy which is frustrating. We like some of the more difficult games and we try to organize some of them outside the test windows but getting all the players together is difficult. I can focus. Just on how to continue to improve our team.

“The only way to change perceptions about Samoa is through our results, and one of the key areas since I took on this role has been to create something that players want to be a part of. Pull the heart out, make themselves available to Samoa – I want every eligible player to choose the blue jersey. I hope. To be on that path where the boys chose to represent Samoa before any other country.”

After winning the PNC title while New Zealand lost in a home Test series to Ireland, he suggests Mapusua could offer some advice to fire-deficient All Blacks coach Ian Foster about winning international matches. “I keep calling him for advice and haven’t been in the coaching game long enough to advise anyone. I’m just happy to keep learning.”


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