The Cook Islands 7s men’s team left for the Oceania Championship over the weekend without three of their key players and coach Andrew Iroa.
Iroa was unable to travel to Fiji for the tournament starting tomorrow, reportedly due to work commitment. He was replaced by former coach Walter Tangata.
Key players Josua Koroitukana, Vaehoolu “Leki” Leka, and Colati “Tua” Ravula, who represented the team at last year’s tournament, were not allowed to compete this year due to eligibility rules.
The trio have been living in the Cook Islands for more three years and are eligible to represent the country in World Rugby sanctioned tournaments
However the 2019 Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship serves as a regional qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and players have to be citizens of the countries they are representing.
Cook Islands Rugby Union acting president Simiona Teiotu said it was unfortunate that they were unable to acquire the services of these players due to eligibility rule.
But Teiotu said this gives local players an opportunity to step up and represent their country at the regional tournament.
The team comprises seven local players and five Cook Islanders based in New Zealand.
“This tournament is purely for Cook Islanders, and those who hold New Zealand passport. Even for those based in New Zealand, their grandparents have to be from the Cook Islands then they qualify to represent the country,” Teiotu said.
“It’s unfortunately that we find ourselves in this unique situation. We are disadvantaged in a way but those are the rules and we have to follow them.”
Teiotu said the team had prepared well and the players were looking forward to a good outing in the three-day tournament to be held in Suva.
Last week the team launched their new jersey which is sponsored by Bluesky Cook Islands.
Teiotu said the telecommunication company had always supported their campaign.
“If our team does well, we will progress to the next stage of the qualifiers but the hard work starts in Fiji and I urge all the players to play their hearts out for the country, the people and the sponsors.”
Cook Islands will also field a women’s team which is made up of overseas-based players.
The men’s team is grouped in Pool B with Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea.
The women’s team is in Pool C with Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea.
Cook Islands men’s – Robert Heather, Teina Savage, Othniel Joseph, Timothy Tangirere, Peter Marsters, Rangi Piri, Edward Nicholas, Junior Kiria, Thomas Potoru, Jachim Tumu Makara, Ben Marsters, Toru Tearoa Natua. Manager – Tofiga Injimo, Coach – Walter Tangata, Physio – Pareina Tangata
Cook Islands women’s – Beniamina Koiatu, Chrystal Leota, Dayna Napa, Jennifer Reu, Margaret Nena, Joan Isaaka, Tari Arere, Wairakau Greig, Crystal Tamarua, Ngatokotoru Akakua, Kaiyah Atai, Lydia Turua-Quedley. Coach – Friends Tairea, Team Manager – Opuramiti Samuel, Physio – Christopher Wilson.