Cassie Siataga inspires Samoa to first Oceania crown
The Samoa fly-half scored all her side's points as they won the Oceania Rugby Women's Championship 2023 title in dramatic style against Fiji.
A total of 44 players have been selected to take part in the World Rugby Pacific Combine and Oceania Rugby Women’s Combine, which are scheduled to run in consecutive weeks for the first time.
Suva will host both events, which are scheduled to take place between 20 August-2 September and aim to identify the best talent in Oceania and accelerate their development through immersion in a high-performance environment.
The 24 men and 20 women were identified through their performances at the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2023 and Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship 2023, which were played in Samoa and Australia in May and June.
Fiji Warriors won the Pacific Challenge for the 10th time in May and seven members of the victorious squad, including flanker Isoa Tuwai who scored three tries in Apia, have earned their place in the Combine.
Players with a professional contract were not eligible to be selected for the Pacific Combine. The seven Fijians will be joined by 11 Samoans and six Tongans in Suva.
Meanwhile, 10 members of the Samoa squad that won the 2023 Women’s Championship title have been picked for the Combine, including fly-half Cassie Siataga who scored all her side’s points in their decisive 19-18 victory against Fiji.
Siataga and her compatriots will be joined in Suva by five players each from Tonga and Papua New Guinea.
For the first time the two combines will be held back-to-back in the same location, giving the players involved the opportunity to take advantage of the same elite coaching and strength and conditioning support.
Scott Wisemantel and Nicky Ponsford will lead the men’s and women’s combines respectively, and they will be joined by a host of elite local and international coaches and strength and conditioning staff, including Filoi Eneliko, Whitney Hansen, Gareth Baber and Filo Tiatia.
The objective of the combines is to immerse those taking part in a high-performance environment. During their week in Suva the players will be tested against World Rugby standards, with key areas of assessment spanning technical, tactical, physical and medical aspects of the game.
Players will also be provided with off-field education sessions in areas such as nutrition, media, contracting, relocation and wellbeing. Each Combine will conclude with a match-like scenario against local opposition, to test some of the skills the participants have learned during the week.
It is hoped that the programmes can help to unearth the next generation of talent with contracts in Super Rugby Pacific and the Super W up for grabs.
Nine Super W scholarship placements, which are available to coaches and strength and conditioning staff as well as players, could be earned by those taking part in the women’s Combine. 12 Super Rugby Pacific contracts are available to those enrolled in the men’s Combine.
Fijian Drua coach Mick Byrne will be involved in Suva as an assistant coach, and he understands the importance of the combines to the players selected.
Byrne said: “The Combine is a great opportunity for the young Pacific Island players to experience first-class coaching. It is also a great introduction to what a professional rugby environment looks and feels like.
“The Combine is a unique opportunity for the young men and women of the Pacific Islands to showcase their talents with a view to furthering their rugby careers. I can’t wait to see the talent that is unearthed at the World Rugby Combine of 2023.”
Launched in 2018, the World Rugby-funded men’s Pacific Combine aims to give emerging talent access to world-leading coaches and strength and conditioning experts, in order to prepare those players for an elite environment.
Several players have graduated from their involvement in the programme to full test recognition, including Fiji scrum-half Frank Lomani and Tonga fly-half James Faiva, who each represented their country at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
The Oceania Rugby Women’s Combine, which is funded primarily by the Australian government through PacificAus Sports, became the world’s first such initiative for female players when its inaugural edition was held on the Gold Coast last September.
Six of the 20 players involved in 2022 earned scholarships with Super W sides for the recently concluded season.
In addition to those scholarships, the Western Force signed a seventh player, Samoan international Saelua Leaula, while Eneliko – a former Manusina player and current Lakapi Samoa Women’s Academy Manager – was offered a short-term coaching placement with the Brumbies.
Frank Puletua, General Manager, Oceania Rugby said: “The Combine provides young, aspiring female athletes from our Pacific unions with a great platform to showcase their natural abilities and competencies in rugby.
“As a region, Oceania continues to produce some of the most gifted athletes in the world, and this is reflected in the disproportionate representation of Pasifika players in professional competitions around the globe.
“However, to compete at an elite level requires a greater level of commitment, drive, discipline, and resilience, in order to achieve the desired technical proficiency. The Combine offers just that, and provides an ideal entry point for these young women to take the next step on their rugby journey"
Men's: Ivan Fepuleai, Anthony Tamilo, Jonathan Vincent Toelupe, Sam Taulapapa Ale, East Timor Viliamu Faamatuainu, Des Sepulona Faoa, Afa Moleli, Troy Onosai, Junior Bitner Tafili, Tuna Tuitama, Siisiialafiauta Taaititi (all Samoa), Seremaia Drualona Komailevuka, Isao Tuwai, Ilikimi Torosi, Taitusi Lulusini, Ponipate Davdetawalu Tuberi, Maika Kamikamica Tuitubou, Paul Dolokoto (all Fiji), Mosese Havea, Misinale O Nafualu Uluaki Uakilu Epenisa, Asaeli Ngahe, Frank Mafi, Jeff Ikani, Leonaitasi Feke (all Tonga).
Women's: Luisa Pita (Tonga), Lulu Leuta, Jaqui Aiona, Alanis Toia-Tigafua (all Samoa), Sokopeti Akauola (Tonga), Nina Foasese (Samoa), Marie Boyama (Papua New Guinea), Seneti Kilisimasi (Tonga), Fa'alua Loe Tugaga, Cassie Siataga (both Samoa), Fatima Rama, Joanne Butler (both Papua New Guinea), Siutiti Ma'ake (Tonga), Linda Fiagia, Hasting Leiatua (both Samoa), Asipau Mafi (Tonga), Ana Mamea, Easter Savelio (both Samoa), Joanne Lagona, Naomi Kelly (both Papua New Guinea).