Laughter, celebration and a tough match on the agenda when world champions visit Pacific nation next year

Every day after work and just before dusk - signalling time for evening prayers - dozens of village boys and young men come together for a game of rugby.

The odd man will turn up with a pair of Nike or adidas boots polished to perfection, but otherwise there is no flash gear here. The majority are decked out in old shirts and a mix of lavalava and shorts. Jandals lie in the grass - chucked aside to ensure ultimate speed and power.

There is a lot of laughter, of course, because this is Samoa, where things are relaxed.

News of the Olopeleki - or All Blacks - playing on home soil next July has quickly spread through the grapevine.


"It's changing things," former Manu Samoa flanker Tuala Sila Vaifale said.

Vaifale, a try-scorer in the historic 16-13 upset against Wales in 1991, cannot hide his excitement and admitted he is jealous of the boys in blue who will play.

"I wish it was our team back then. It would have been a dream come true. This game now is a dream come true for us," he said.

He and fellow former Manu player Mailo Potu Leavasa are now involved with the Apia West Rugby Union and NPC clubs and both coach.

Leavasa, coach of the Samoa A team, said many of their players were based overseas and there has been a big push to develop rugby among local players.

"This is a really big boost for us, because it creates motivation for local boys to work hard in their rugby. It gives them a hope to one day play in front of their people against the best teams in the world."

Vaifale said one thing he hoped New Zealand would not do was underestimate Manu Samoa.

"I can't wait to see someone tackle Ma'a Nonu to the ground," he laughed.

At Apia Park, it is clear a lot of work needs to be done. The pitch is a little dusty and the stands rattle.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has already acknowledged that the park needs attention and that the country would be approaching China to help with funds.

When the Herald visits, hundreds of students are at the park for the high school regional athletics championships.

Teenagers, in school uniforms, are in designated areas and run a series of on-the-spot choreographed chants, cheers and clapping sequences.

The noise is tremendous as pupils stamp their feet and cheer heartily for their favourite athletes. The odd person stands up and gives an impromptu dance.

Such displays of celebration and camaraderie are what will make next year's All Blacks and Manu Samoa match special.

What they say

Anne Fatialofa, widow of rugby great Peter "Fats" Fatialofa

"I'm delighted.

"He [Fatialofa] was always talking about it with the rest of the rugby players. I don't know whether he thought it was ever going to be possible for it to happen."

Mrs Fatialofa said if her late husband was around, "he'd be there - he'd be most likely trying to get in on the organising in Samoa".

"He would most definitely have gone."

Michael Jones, former All Black, also played for Samoa
"It's the ultimate game for Samoan rugby, Samoan rugby players and the Samoan community.

"To be able to host the preeminent rugby world power ... for Samoans it doesn't get any better.

"It's just going to lift a whole nation and their sense of feeling special - it's all wrapped up in this game and that it's finally happening after decades of waiting."

Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, also head of Samoa's rugby union
"It will be an historic occasion to have the All Blacks play in Samoa in July 2015. The rugby supporters of both countries will savour a unique event in Apia as the Manu Samoa will face the number one team in the world at home.

"I also challenge other tier-one nations to come and play the Manu Samoa at home."