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James Lay's 'shocked' reaction to being named Moana Pasifika captain

By Ned Lester
James Lay in action for Manu Samoa. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Moana Pasifika recruit James Lay admits he was “shocked” when he was asked to captain the team under new coach Tana Umaga.

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The former Bristol and Blues prop enjoyed a strong Rugby World Cup campaign with Manu Samoa in 2023, coming off the bench in the side’s one-point loss to eventual bronze medallists England.

Lay says the opportunity of captaincy came out of the blue, somewhat fitting for a club connected by the ocean.

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“I’m humbled and just very grateful for the opportunity first and foremost,” he told RNZ. “For me, I’m just the voice of the players and I’m just gunning to continue to be myself with the support of the other leaders around me.

“At first I was definitely shocked, a bit of a curveball in my direction, I didn’t really expect it at all. To be asked for that honour, I’m just grateful, my family’s very, very happy and I’m just trying to stay grounded and do my thing.”

Now tasked with leading a club that has struggled in its first two seasons in Super Rugby Pacific, the 30-year-old said he would lean on experienced international players like Sekope Kepu, Christian Lealiifano and fellow new recruit Julian Savea.

“I’m lucky that I’ve got a good leadership group around me with plenty of experience,” he told media earlier in the week. “I’ve been impressed with how they’re leading the team. I can take a step back and allow them to deliver key messages as well.

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“I got some nice personal messages from the boys in that group, and they just said they’ve got my back no matter what. They’re here to support me with whatever we need.

“As a team we want to put in performances that our people will be proud of. We want our fans and our people to look up to us and get behind us in what we’re trying to achieve.

“For me I just need to focus on being the best version of myself and hopefully the others will follow.”

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For Umaga, Lay represents the work ethic and attitude he wants to instil in the squad, setting the tone for a team that managed just one win in 2023.

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“James is a hard worker and he leads through his actions as much as he leads through his words,” said Umaga. “The way he plays, he doesn’t cut corners and showcases all the values that this team’s about.

“For us he was a stand out choice and we had a lot of choices in this group.

“He’s not one that leads because he wants to be seen or known, but he leads because that’s his nature.”

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