The Cook Islands men’s rugby team are taking plenty of encouragement from their first hit-out in three years.
national side was beaten 31-24 by New Zealand provincial champions Tasman on
Tuesday, after conceding the match-winning try in the final play of the game.
coach Nathan Robinson was pleased with the performance of his players off the
back of only two full training sessions.
was really good for us to get a good gauge of where we are as individuals and
where we are as a squad,” he said.
be fair we weren’t really looking at the result but to come away this close was
good for us. Coming into this camp in general we got a lot of bang for our
buck, so we take a lot out of this which is really, really good.”
Oceania Men’s Rugby Championship was cancelled earlier this year because of
Covid-19, with the Cook Islands advancing to the next stage of Rugby World Cup
2023 qualifying based on their world ranking.
squad only assembled together on Saturday, with 23 players taking the field
against the Makos, including five based in Rarotonga.
bulk of the players were making their debut for the national team and Robinson
– a former Cook Islands international in sevens and fifteens – admitted it
wasn’t just the team’s jerseys that were green.
scratched the surface in New Zealand and in Raro and we’ve got a lot of new
boys so that’s the key for us: obviously we’ve got an eye on the test match in
a fortnight (against Samoa or Tonga) but obviously an eye on the future as
well,” he reflected.
only got three boys over the age of 28 in the side so we’re building depth and
some continuity going forward for the national side.”
of the new faces was former Highlanders and Southland loose forward Tupou
Sopoaga, who debuted alongside his younger brother Toka Sopoaga and cousin
29-year-old also represented the Cook Islands in rugby league and said it meant
a lot to represent his Pacific heritage.
mum’s full Cook Islander, my dad’s full Samoan and that’s the same situation
with a lot of other boys around the world,” he said.
might be full Tongan or full Samoan or full Fijian but at the end of the day
New Zealand gave us the opportunity. We’d love the rules to loosen (for
eligibility) but ultimately we’re just grateful we can use New Zealand as a
platform to get a gig somewhere in New Zealand or overseas.”
a hectic build-up, including a number of players being unavailable and a
last-minute venue change, Robinson believed the team has a good base to build
liked the physicality. We’ve got a few big bodies in that forward pack and we
carried really, really well,” he said.
the game evolved we got into our shape a lot more better, so we stuck in it and
the boys showed a lot more heart.
come a little bit undone in that backline a little bit – just run a bit short
of numbers – but we will get better on that and that will be some of our
head coach Andrew Goodman said his players were made to work hard for their
was a competitive game. They were physical and really dangerous with that
Cook Islands squad will reassemble in Auckland ahead of next weekend’s clash
with the New Zealand Under 20s, and Robinson said further reinforcements were
on their way.
will probably bring in six to eight boys (who) are on the fringe of looking at
coming in,” he said.
the moment they’re training with their NPC teams and in Australia so we will
scratch our heads and see what we can do with getting a squad going forward.”
Covid-19 has put a small spanner in the works.
got a couple of boys who are part of the (Melbourne) Rebels squad at the
moment, with the Super season just gone, so we’ve just got to be mindful of the
virus with the lockdowns at the moment, so we're just chasing up a bit of comms
on that at the moment.”
facing the New Zealand Under 20s the Cook Islands will round out a busy month
on 24 July against whoever loses the World Cup qualification playoff between
Samoa and Tonga.
winner of that match will then advance to the Asia/Pacific Playoff for a place
in the 2023 World Cup in France.