Moana Pasifika name strong coaching line up for inaugural Under 20s team

Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua have been invited to go head-to-head with the next generation of New Zealand Rugby’s rising stars when the Bunnings Warehouse Super Rugby U20 tournament kicks off in Taupō this month.

The two Pasifika squads will join 162 emerging players from the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders, Highlanders and a New Zealand Barbarians selection for the third edition of the tournament from March 19-25 at Owen Delany Park in Taupō. All matches will be live and exclusive on Sky.

Gus Leger has been appointed as Head Coach and brings with him a wealth of experience in youth rugby development. Having most recently held the title of Assistant Coach for the 2022 New Zealand Secondary Schools team, the former-Tongan international is very familiar with the targeted age group.

Currently employed as a teacher, he has held coaching roles at Auckland Rugby, the New Zealand Barbarian Schools, Auckland Marist, Wesley College & Sacred Heart College.

Leger is looking forward to working with our Pasifika youth and providing a new pathway for emerging talent. “This is an exciting opportunity to support the next group of Pasifika players. I had an opportunity to represent the ‘Ikale Tahi in Rugby and Tanifa Samoa for Softball a few years ago and understand how special it is to represent your people.”

Last year, Leger coached the Blues Under 20s alongside Steven Bates and Daniel Bowden and understands the skill level and physicality required at this representative level. “It is going to be a tough tournament, but the players and coaches will be up for the challenge,” says Leger.

Three Assistant Coaches, Nili Latu, Doug Sanft & Shalom Senara, have been appointed to join Leger for the 2023 campaign.

Nili Latu is no stranger to the Pasifika rugby scene having captained the ‘Ikale Tahi at a Rugby World Cup and amassing over 50 tests for Tonga. The 41-year-old had a professional rugby career that spanned a 16 year period and saw him play across the globe.

Since retiring, Latu has turned to coaching and held his first role as Contact & Breakdown Coach at Hino Red Dolphins in Japan. Upon returning home to New Zealand, the former-Chiefs and Hurricanes loose forward was the Head Coach of the Papatoetoe Premiere team and has just been appointed the Marist North Harbour Head Coach for 2023.

“It’s a blessing to be given the opportunity to inspire the next Generations of young Pasifika players. One Moana. One Vaka,” says Latu.

Doug Sanft is a popular name on the South Auckland rugby scene having most recently coached the Manukau Rovers to a Gallaher Shield Title, ending a 45-year drought and defeating 35-time champions Ponsonby in a 20-18 thriller.

He has also coached the Tongan National Sevens team and represented Samoa on the international rugby stage so is excited to be part of Moana Pasifika’s new journey in the Under 20 space.

“It’s an honour and a privilege to be involved with the Moana Pasifika franchise and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I am motivated to integrate the skills and initiatives I have learnt in my coaching and playing career to develop our next Moana Pasifika Super Rugby players.”

Sanft certainly has his ear to the ground when it comes to up and coming talent having been involved with the Blues Under 18s, Pacific Island Rugby Under 18s and Under 20s and New Zealand Schools Sevens team.

Completing the coaching staff for 2023 is St Kentigern College 1st XV Forwards Coach Shalom Senara. He has a passion for developing the next generation of Pasifika talent having held the role of Samoa Rugby Union Development and Academy Manager from 2015 to 2017.

On his return to New Zealand, Senara joined the Kings College 1st XV as Forwards Coach and won the Auckland 1A title in 2019. In January 2023, Senara was the Technical Advisor for the Samoa Sevens Under 18 team who were finalists at the World School Sevens.

“It’s a huge honour to be part of the Moana Pasifika Under 20s aiga. I’m looking forward to meeting and helping our stars of the future achieve their full potential while enjoying the experience at the same time,” says Senara.

Prior to the appointment of the coaches, Moana Pasifika Pathways Manager Leasiosiofaasisina Kevin Senio and Team Manager Lauaki Ramsey Tomokino performed talent identification in Samoa & Tonga at the end of 2022 during the Oceania Rugby Under 20s campaign.

Most recently, Moana Pasifika High Performance staff also held combines across New Zealand to find the next generation of Pasifika players.

An Expression of Interest (EOI) form received over 500 applications and the young men were invited to attend combines in eight different locations spanning from Auckland to Dunedin.

The coaching staff were thoroughly impressed with the talent on display and will be naming the team on Wednesday 15th March.

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