Super Rugby: Aaron Mauger believes Miracle Fai’ilagi shows benefits of Moana Pasifika

The signing of loose forward Miracle Fai’ilagi to next year’s Moana Pasifika squad shows the value the Super Rugby is providing to the sport in the Pacific Islands believes Aaron Mauger.

Fai’ilagi was picked up by Moana Pasifika after standing out at a combine put on by World Rugby, to help identify talented players who have the potential to play rugby at a higher level.

The 23-year-old Fai’ilagi, had been a part of the Samoan sevens team setup, but his promotion to a professional rugby contract to play Super Rugby shows how Moana Pasifika are contributing rugby in the islands and opening up pathways.

“How that came about was through the World Rugby Pacific combine,” Moana Pasifika coach Aaron Mauger said at the announcement for next season’s squad on Tuesday.

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“Myself and Filo Tiatia (assistant coach) were able to attend, along with Kevin Senio (director of rugby) and a couple of other staff.

Moana Pasifika are looking to build on their tough first season of Super Rugby Pacific.

Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

Moana Pasifika are looking to build on their tough first season of Super Rugby Pacific.

“Miracle was a clear stand out for us, he caught our eye early with how he handled himself, not just on the field, but off it as well.

“He’s been in the sevens environment, so knows how to work hard, knows how to push himself and he performed really well on gameday against the Fiji Warriors side.

“We felt he was ready for this opportunity and it’s really exciting and now it’s visible for young, aspiring players in the islands, that they too can become Super Rugby players and be a part of Moana Pasifika.”

Part of Moana Pasifika’s mission statement is to champion the power of Pasifika people and culture and put it on a world stage. So this will never just be about the 80 minutes of rugby every week.

“That’s the whole kaupapa for Moana Pasifika, to inspire belief in our people and belief that they too can be in this position,” Mauger said.

“Miracle is a great example of that, he was playing for his village and local province just a few months ago and now he’s going to come on the Super Rugby stage.

“It is a possibility, it takes hard work, but Miracle is an example of those behaviors which can earn you this opportunity.

Christian Leali'ifano is back for more as head coach Aaron Mauger looks to build his Moana Pasifika team

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Christian Leali’ifano is back for more as head coach Aaron Mauger looks to build his Moana Pasifika team

“For Miracle to come here, represent his family, his villages and proud nation of Samoa, it’s 100% what we’re about.

“It’s a beautiful moment for us and it’s something we’re really celebrating today.”

Fai’ilagi is the only uncapped player in the Moana Pasifika squad and that continuity will help them build on last season when they had two wins from 14 games.

So back again are two former Wallabies, captain Sekope Kepu and first-five Christian Lealiifano, who turned 35 in September.

“He keeps telling me he’s got more years!” Mauger said of Lealiifano.

“We’re so grateful to Christian and for his service to this team and what we’re trying to achieve for Moana Pasifika.

“He’s part of a really giving leadership group and it’s great to have him back on board. I’m sure he’ll have the same influence, if not more than he had last year.”

In years to come Moana Pasifika want to establish an under-20 and women’s team and eventually base themselves in Samoa and Tonga, rather than Auckland.

They also want to be able to pick up more players directly from the Pacific Islands.

“In five year’s time we want to be in a position where at least 50% of our squad have come through a Moana Pasifika pathway, our own development system,” Mauger said.

“That might be players from the islands, or young players who have come through a New Zealand system of Pasifika heritage that choose to represent Moana Pasifika.

“The other thing is we always want high representation in our national teams. We want to be over 50% if we can, this year it was 80%. So 80% of our squad played for Samoa or Tonga and that’s massive.

“If you look at the benefit of that for Samoa and Tonga and how they’ve performed on their recent tours, it’s a good example of what this vehicle of Moana Pasifika can do for the islands.”

Moana Pasifika Squad

Forwards: Abraham Pole, Alamanda Motuga, Alex McRobbie, Chris Apoua, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Isi Tu’ungafasi, Jack Lam, Joe ‘Apikotoa, Lotu Inisi, Luteru Tolai, Mahonri Ngakuru, Michael Curry, Mike McKee, Miracle Fai’ilagi, Penitoa Finau, Ray Niuia, Samiuela Moli, Samuel Slade, Sekope Kepu, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Solomone Funaki, Taukiha’amea Koloamatangi.

Backs: Anzelo Tuitavuki, Christian Leali’ifano, D’Angelo Leuila, Danny Toala, Ereatara Enari, Fine Inisi, Henry Taefu, Jonathan Taumateine, Levi Aumua, Lincoln McClutchie, Lolagi Visinia, Manu Paea, Neria Foma’i, Tima Fainga’anuku, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Tomasi Alosio, William Havili.

Joining Moana Pasifika from the World Rugby Pacific Combine on preseason training contracts: Joe Perez (Samoa), Faletoi Peni (Samoa), Semisi Paea (Tonga), Frank Mafi (Tonga), Alosio Moa (Tonga).

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