Ieremia spearheads Samoan connection
Samoan rugby in Wellington has received a much-needed shot in the arm thanks largely to former All Black Alama Ieremia.
A feature of Wellington's representative landscape since the 1970s, the Samoan selection all but dropped off the radar in recent years.
So when Ieremia heard the side didn't have a single match scheduled this year he took up the cause. "It had just had fallen through the cracks really," the Hurricanes assistant coach said.
"It's close to my heart and it would have been a real pity to see it go. It's such a vital organisation for Wellington rugby and it has such a rich history . . . when I played it was very, very strong.
"We had Tana and Mike [Umaga], Lolani Koko, Filo [Tiatia], Junior [Tonu'u] guys like that and all the PI [Pacific Island] teams in Wellington were strong."
Ieremia played 30 tests for the All Blacks from 1994 to 2000 but also represented Samoa five times.
Regardless of the new one-country eligibility rules, he believes the links between the two countries remain as strong today.
"It was really the advent of professionalism that eroded things."
So, in the space of a week an executive committee was formed, including the fathers of two former All Blacks, Frank Collins, as president, and Ieti Tiatia, as patron.
With former Samoan test halfback Steve So'oialo appointed coach and a team selected, the Wellington Rugby Union jumped on board and a four-match programme was thrown together.
The fixtures provided a valuable avenue for a large number of players on the fringes of the mainstream representative sides, Ieremia said.
And with 33 per cent of all senior players in the province being of Pacific Island descent (1202 in total), and 36 per cent of juniors (1742), the statistics back that up.
The playing numbers have been reasonably stable since the Wellington union started keeping records in 2008 but, significantly, the number of Pacific coaches has increased 16 per cent during that time.
Ieremia hopes other Pacific-based teams will also return to the fold and is encouraged 12 teams have entered a Village Kings tournament he has organised on Saturday at Porirua Park.
"It will be open to anyone regardless of whether they're Samoan but the idea is to get the PI community together and revive an old concept that I think will be a useful tool for Wellington rugby," he said.
The Dominion Post