On Saturday 11 July 1998 two women’s teams played the curtain raiser to the Manu Samoa versus New Zealand A match at Apia Park. The two teams - National University of Samoa and Samoa Polytechnic became the first to officially play a women’s rugby match in Samoa, giving birth to Women’s rugby in Samoa and its national team: the Manusinalesoa.
In the space of two months the Samoa Women’s Rugby Union (SWRU) was formed. Members of the executive were: Dawn Rasmussen (president) Fauolegogo Tanielu (vice president) Susan Faoagali (secretary) Alataua Tuliaupupu (treasurer) Moana Lima (Letogo) Katie Bentin Aimaasu (Lupe o le Soaga) Vitoria Crichton Faamaoni (Falefa) . With the establishment of the union the naming of the national team was registered as Manusinalesoā, shortened to Manusina.
The inaugural women’s competition was held amid the Apia King of Rugby’s competition held during the Teuila festival (September). Seven women’s teams competed: Samoa Polytechnic, The National University of Samoa, Apia, Vaiala Ulalei, Letogo, Lupe o le Soaga and the Safua team from Savaii later known as SWIRT2000 (Savaii Women’s Inaugural Rugby Team 2000)
In 1999 a club competition took place under the Apia Rugby Union. Letogo won the Championship cup with Vaiala Ulalei winning the Lee Memorial Plate while NUS won the Round Robin competition.
In 1999 was the inaugural entry of the Samoa women’s team into the invitational Hong Kong women’s 7’s. The team was made up mainly of New Zealand-born Samoans until 2000 when local players made the team. Tupai Rico Tupai (coach), Lilomaiava Taufusi Salesa (Technical Advisor) and Treena Atoa (manager) managed the team. In 2000, women’s teams first entered the Marist International 7s Tournament. Six teams made up of five local teams: Letogo, Apia, NUS, Falefa, and Vaiala with NZ’s Ulalei making up the numbers.
Later that same year on 15 July the first international match was held at Apia Park between Manusina and the Cherry Blossoms of Japan. The inaugural test match, won by Japan was also the qualifier for the 2002 Women’s World Cup at Barcelona Spain.
Since then Manusina had taken part in various international games.
2001 was a tour of New Zealand and a game against the New Zealand Wild Ducks. It was a long 4-years later, in 2005 that Manusina played again, a game against England. A short 12-minths later in 2006, Manusina participated in the FORU tri-nations held in Tonga against Fiji, and Tonga. A prelude to the Women’s World Cup in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada the same year.
In 2007 women's rugby was revived once again by Dawn Rasmassen through the Pacific 7s in PNG. With the International Rugby Board (IRB) pushing for inclusion of Rugby 7s into the Olympics, women’s rugby has become a possible trump card to the IRB’s plans. It is by no chance that the 2007 revival of women’s competition in the country is parallel to the international agenda to move rugby further up the global sports pecking order. For Samoa, the establishment of a Steering committee endorsed by the Samoan Rugby Union is the beginnings of the resurgence. Already, two rugby 7s tournaments have been played as well as inclusion of women’s section into the prestigious Marist International 7s is clear results of this movement. Endorsement by School Principals of schoolgirls rugby to start April 2008 is evidence of the vision and strategic platform.
Later in 2008 Samoa hosted the Oceania qualifier to the Inaugural Women’s Rugby 7s World Cup in Dubai, March 2009. Although Samoa did not qualify for the World Cup event, it was significant that both Apia finalists, NZ and Australia, also fought out the final of the Sevens World Cup. The result in Dubai mirrored Apia with Australia’s Wallaroos triumphant over their Kiwi counterpart. The win was later dedicated by the Wallaroos team to their Apia Coach, Shawn MacKay who died in late March as a result of a motorcar accident in South Africa.
On 28 January 2009, the Samoa Women’s Rugby Union voted a new executive and constitution to formalise women’s rugby development. A 2009 Calendar of events was approved and preparations towards its one-off Qualifying match with Australia to represent Oceania at the 2010 Rugby World Cup is well underway.
The game against Australia resulted in a 82-0 win to the side from Down Under highlighting the enormous challenge for the newly elected President.
President for SWRU, Toleafoa Mara Hunter said, “These are exciting times for women’s rugby in Samoa. Getting our players into HPU gains us access to all the expertise and technical nous the Manu Samoa players have by default. It gives our preparation to the Oceania qualifier lead-time to gain traction, and at the same time gives our elite players the prestige and status which helps gain community support and profile our women need to achieve bigger goals.”
The Elite program continues Toleafoa Hunter, adds a level for women playing in the domestic competition to aspire to and for parents, an assurance their daughters with talent have a pathway to be Manusina with the right support from home.
“At the end of the day, we want the best players to represent Samoa at the internationals”, says Toleafoa Hunter. “By having the benchmarks drafted by Head Trainer, Dave Edgar, all players no matter where they come from will be tested under the same conditions. Selection will therefore be very fair as it's not based on a quota system. This is the only way for our national team to go forward and the HPU program is a huge cog in that infrastructure.”
The Elite program through the Head Trainer and Rugby Services Manager will provide the benchmarks and conditions allowing overseas players wishing to represent Samoa with the exact requirements and specific information for selection. Getting this right ensures players know where they are and their realistic chance of selection by the time of trials.
This program concludes Toleafoa is invaluable, “It complements the work SWRU is implementing at the grassroots level through our domestic competitions and partnership with the Schools Union growing schoolgirls rugby that kicked off on Wednesday this week.
“It provides a pathway for us to feed the elite program from the grassroots nursery provided by the schools. Getting the basics, technical skills, game awareness and rugby lifestyle-uniqueness done at the grassroots level will give us highly skilled and professional female players in the future-and that’s what’s exciting about these times here in Samoa.”
A collaboration with the Samoa Secondary Schools Rugby Union has seen the establishment of a schoolgirls competition. The nine-team competition kicked off on 8 April 2009.
The past years have seen a decline in the number of local teams and players participating in women's rugby in Samoa and while this is a concern with the 2016 Rio Olympics looming around the corner there is hope that Samoa can make its way to the biggest world stage.