By winning the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2016 in Zimbabwe on Sunday after a thrilling 38-32 extra-time win over Spain, Samoa will reclaim their place among the world’s elite nations when the 2017 edition of the World Rugby U20 Championship takes place in Georgia.
Just as importantly, insists Samoa U20 head coach Ramsey Tomokino, the success in Harare also served as a reminder to the country’s up and coming young talent of the opportunities that wearing a blue jersey can bring.
“It is massive for the Samoan rugby community, it will make players aspire to represent Samoa and hopefully we can win more players back that are opting to represent other nations," he said.
“While we never stop them (going overseas), we want to say here is a pathway to an international rugby career in a blue jersey and the Samoa U20s becomes a pathway to the Samoan sevens team, Samoa A and ultimately Manu Samoa.”
ONE EL' OF A PLAYER
Four of the squad that won the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2011 title in Samoa’s only previous appearance in the competition graduated to senior honours, and as many, if not more, of the class of 2016 look set to go on to bigger and better things.
"DID YOU KNOW ... ?"
Samoa’s hat-trick hero in the final against Spain, barnstorming number eight Elia Elia, is one player who looks destined for life at the top.
A member of the team that finished last and was relegated from the top tier U20 Championship in 2015, Elia says the disappointment from that lowly showing in Italy – and the determination to put smiles on the faces of people back home suffering the after-effects of Cyclone Amos, a category three storm that caused widespread flooding –helped fuel Samoa’s bid for silverware in the Zimbabwe capital.
"First of all, I'd like to thank the man above and my parents, it wouldn't have been possible without them,” he said.
“Winning the World Trophy has been one hell of an achievement, one that will never be forgotten. After the disappointment of being relegated last year, we knew we had to get our country's name back up in the top tier and competing at the highest level of rugby where Samoa belongs.
“I was born in New Zealand but Samoa will always be the place I call home, and to have the privilege and honour wearing the blue jersey for the second year is just indescribable.
“Samoa has been through a lot and during the tournament was struck with Cyclone Amos. Everyone was affected by the cyclone and it gave us even more of a desire to win the trophy and give families something to smile about through the tough time. Prayers have been answered and I couldn't have been more proud of the men, from one to 26 everyone had a part to play and I'm forever grateful.”
Samoan rugby was in need of a lift after a disappointing Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign followed the relegation from the U20 Championship.
“It definitely means a lot, as a nation we are small in size and always love to punch above our weight. Winning means giving the players of 2017 a goal to aspire to because they will be participating in the tier one competition in Georgia in 2017,” added coach Tomokino.
“We are in a rebuilding phase with Samoa rugby and winning this is very much a part of this process and ties in nicely with the launching of a revitalised rugby academy in Samoa.”
While Samoa added the 2016 title to the one they won in 2011, Fiji, who were beaten 32-8 by their Pacific rivals in the pool stages of the eight-team competition, had to settle for third place.
Tomokino longs for the day when both nations are back among the elite. “What is the World Championship without a Pacific Island nation? The Pacific needs to be represented. I feel for our Fijian brothers; they will be in the World Trophy for a third time next year if they qualify.
"DID YOU KNOW ...?"
“Getting out of the Trophy to the tier one competition is becoming harder. Our team was only selected on 1 April, so when you consider our limited time and resources, this is a massive achievement for Samoa.
“We don't want to be in this position again. Although the World Trophy is a fantastic competition, we want to strive to remain in the Championship and hopefully another one of our Pacific neighbours will be there soon.”
For Samoa U20 captain, prop Jarrad Adams, lifting the trophy was one of the highlights of his fledgling career.
“I'll never forget this year's under 20 competition, it is a huge milestone in my life and for my family as well. I was honoured and privileged to be selected as captain and lead this side to the trophy win. I believe I've grown as a player from this experience in what was a great World Rugby tournament.”