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Moana Pasifika add Niuean player and experienced coach to squad

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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Moana Pasifika have made three more signings and announced its assistant coach to head coach Aaron Mauger ahead of their debut season in Super Rugby Pacific.

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The expansion franchise announced on Friday that former All Blacks loose forward Filo Tiatia will serve as Moana Pasifika’s assistant coach.

The 50-year-old, who is of Samoan heritage and played two tests for the All Blacks in 2000, brings with him multiple years of coaching experience from all corners of the globe.

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Since retiring from his playing career that saw him turn out for the Hurricanes, Wellington, Ospreys, Toyota Verblitz and Travisium, Tiatia has coached professionally in New Zealand, Japan and Wales.

Those experiences saw him coach both Ospreys and Toyota Verblitz before joining the Sunwolves as an assistant coach in 2016 and then as head coach the year after.

During his time in Japan, Tiatia also served two stints as an assistant coach for the Brave Blossoms in 2013 and 2017, while he returned to New Zealand three years ago to sign for Auckland.

Acting as an assistant to head coach and former All Blacks midfielder Alama Ieremia, Tiatia helped guide the province to its first NPC title in over a decade in his first year with the side.

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After leaving his position with Auckland earlier this year after helping steer them to an appearance in last season’s final, Tiatia said he is excited to be part of Moana Pasifika’s inaugural Super Rugby campaign.

“We have a lot of amazing talent out there, and this team is an exciting development in professional rugby,” he said via a statement.

“I’m really motivated to be part of finding and growing future stars of the international game, and I have a strong desire to help our Pasifika players thrive and deliver exciting, and fun rugby to play and watch.

“Having a strong cultural tie to roots was an important part of my role as a player, and it has been a key part of my coaching style.

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“Covid has really changed our landscape and preparation time, but I see that as a great opportunity to be innovative and think differently about how we prepare to hit the ground running.”

Mauger is similarly optimistic about the knowledge Tiatia can impart on the Moana Pasifika squad in its first season of existence.

“Filo is a proud Samoan who has been around professional rugby teams for over 30 years. He knows what a good rugby team looks like, he knows the challenges, knows what success looks like and he knows what we need on the field,” Mauger said.

“His knowledge and skills as a coach, and his work ethic are incredible. Like many of the people involved in our programme, his heart is that of a proud Pasifika man who cares deeply about being part of this special team.”

News of Moana Pasifika’s acquisition of Tiatia comes a day after it announced the signing of three more players to its growing playing squad, including the franchise’s first player of Niuean background.

On Thursday, Moana Pasifika confirmed the signings of Counties Manukau trio Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Sam Slade and Alex McRobbie.

A young lock in his first season with Counties Manukau after returning from a stint in Japan, McRobbie becomes the first player of Niuean heritage to sign with Moana Pasifika.

The announcement of McRobbie’s signing comes after he made his debut for Counties Manukau against North Harbour in this year’s NPC before the province was forced to withdraw from the competition due to Auckland’s ongoing Covid-19 lockdown.

The former Chiefs age-grade representative will compete for places in Moana Pasifika’s second row alongside Southland lock Mike McKee, Manawatu rookie Veikoso Poloniati and ‘Ikale Tahi international Don Lolo.

Lindenmuth, meanwhile, is a former Samoa and New Zealand U20 representative who was part of the New Zealand squad that won the World Rugby U20 Championship in Georgia four years ago.

The following year, the 24-year-old made his debut for Auckland, the same season of which the province won the NPC title under Tiatia’s stewardship as assistant coach, before joining Counties Manukau in 2020.

The Samoan-born loosehead prop made his Super Rugby debut for the Blues in 2019 and made seven appearances for the franchise before making a solitary appearance for the Chiefs during this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Lindenmuth and McRobbie will be joined at Moana Pasifika by their provincial teammate Slade, who was also Lindenmuth’s teammate in the world champion New Zealand U20 squad of 2017.

The 24-year-old utility forward has extensive NPC experience after having debuted for Auckland four years ago before joining Manawatu in 2018 and then Counties Manukau the year after that, but is yet to play at Super Rugby level.

However, Slade, who can play at either lock or flanker, has international experience to his name after having played in both World Cup qualifying tests for Manu Samoa against Tonga in July.

In the fortnight prior to that, Slade started in both of Samoa’s matches against the Maori All Blacks in Wellington and Auckland.

Confirmed Moana Pasifika signings for 2022 Super Rugby Pacific

Props: Sekope Kepu (Counties Manukau), Tau Koloamatangi (Otago), Ezekiel Lindenmuth (Counties Manukau), Isi Tu’ungafasi (Crusaders)

Hookers: Ray Niuia (Blues), Luteru Tolai (Blues)

Locks: Don Lolo (Taieri), Mike McKee (Southland), Alex McRobbie (Counties Manukau), Veikoso Poloniati (Manawatu)

Loose Forwards: Solomone Funaki (Hawke’s Bay), Lotu Inisi (North Harbour), Jack Lam (Waikato), Alamanda Motuga (Counties Manukau), Sam Slade (Counties Manukau), Henry Time-Stowers (Canterbury), Sione Tu’ipulotu (Auckland)

Halfbacks: Ereatara Enari (Crusaders)

First-Fives: Christian Leali’ifano (NTT Communications Shining Arcs), Lincoln McClutchie (Hawke’s Bay)

Midfielders: Fine Inisi (North Harbour), Henry Taefu (Western Force), Danny Toala (Hurricanes)

Outside Backs: Tomasi Alosio (Wellington), Neria Foma’i (Hawke’s Bay), Solomone Kata (Brumbies), Timoci Tavatavanawai (Tasman), Lolagi Visinia (Hurricanes)

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