After switching his allegiances from New Zealand last year, Steven Luatua has described representing Samoa at the Rugby World Cup as "special."
Last Saturday, the Pacific Islanders opened up their campaign with a victory over a spirited Chile side and the Auckland-born backrower was pleased with the 43-10 win to kick off their tournament.
Speaking to TRU, Luatua said: "We were delighted with the result. We knew that it was going to be tough in the first half. Chile are a very spirited, very passionate side and put us under a ton of pressure.
"It was good for us to be able to build into a game and in the second half we just pulled away. If we stick to the game plan then we can put teams away and that’s exactly what we did."
Luatua is in line to start again for Samoa this evening when they take on Argentina in their second Pool D match, giving the Bristol Bears forward another chance to represent his family on the world stage.
From earlier...— Talking Rugby Union (@TalkRugbyUnion) September 16, 2023
"That's what I take from the game - a lack of tactical and technical discipline."
Report from Bordeaux: #CHI's high penalty count costs them as Samoa surge to opening #RWC2023 victoryhttps://t.co/QTjaBsIpGr#SAM pic.twitter.com/4o82xKVwLi
The 32-year-old - who played 15 times for New Zealand between 2013 and 2016 - is one of many big names to benefit from World Rugby's change in eligibility laws and playing for Samoa at a World Cup is an experience of huge personal significance to Luatua.
"It was very special today [v Chile]. I was extremely honoured to be able to do it today for Samoa at a World Cup. I've done the haka before. Growing up in New Zealand, I have a lot of respect for Maori culture but being able to do the Siva Tau and in the language I was brought up with and to represent my family was very special. It’s a massive opportunity.
"I think this year more than ever all the tier two nations are here to compete. I’ve spoken to other boys from the Pacific Islands and they’re very excited about the switches."
Since World Rugby changed its eligibility rules in 2021, it has given players with Pacific Island heritage the ability to switch allegiances to other countries. Samoa is just one nation that has benefited from this change and has welcomed not just Luatua into their squad but also other seasoned internationals such as Lima Sopoaga, Christian Leali’ifano, Michael Alaalalota and Charlie Faumuina.
This has given Samoa a major boost as they look to progress through Pool D and into the knockouts, and Luatau was particularly complimentary of Faumuina’s contributions to the squad.
"It definitely helps," said Luatua. "We can always do with some experienced campaigners. The likes of Charlie (Faumuina) who is probably the oldest in the team. What he offers off the field has been class and he’s kept the boys calm and level-headed. Even at his ripe old age, he’s still pushing the boys and demanding excellence. It’s very good to have him and Christian (Leali’ifano) to lead to way in terms of age!"
Having got one win under their belt, Samoa have Argentina next. It is almost a must-win game for them if they are to keep their hopes alive of progressing to the latter stages of the World Cup and Luatua is confident ahead of their match-up with Los Pumas in Saint-Etienne.
He said: "We’ll enjoy today [v Chile] and the result, but come tomorrow [last Sunday] we’ll look at Argentina. It will be really physical up front and they’ve got some fast guys out wide so we’ll have to sort that out to stop that."