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Physiotherapy Volunteer in Samoa joins Medical Team for Historic All Blacks Game

On 7 July, the Samoan rugby team, Manu Samoa, competed against the New Zealand All Blacks in a long-awaited Test match, held at Apia Park. Despite the nations’ close ties, the All Blacks had never played in Samoa, much to the dismay of the local people. But after years of campaigning, the match finally took place in the heart of Samoa’s capital city, with a revamped stadium and an audience of 8000 people watching.

Projects Abroad Physiotherapy volunteer in Samoa joins the medical team during the Manu Samoa vs All Blacks rugby test match at Apia Park

Projects Abroad Samoa has had a working relationship with the Samoa Rugby Union since September 2014, when our Physiotherapy volunteers started to work with the players. As a result of this partnership, Tobias van der Sar, a Projects Abroad volunteer from the Netherlands, was asked to join the on-field medical team for the All Blacks game.

Tobias originally came to Samoa as a Physiotherapy volunteer, working between Fiamalamalama School for the Intellectually and Physically Handicapped and the Samoa Rugby Union. Although he only planned to stay for three months, Tobias was approached by the management of the Samoa Rugby Union to work at the Manu Samoa vs All Blacks game. Given the amazing opportunity to participate in this historic match, Tobias decided to extend his trip by another two months; “It was an incredible opportunity, the most amazing work experience I could have ever asked for.”

The game was hugely important for Samoa; not only was it was the first time that the All Blacks have visited the country, but it also cemented Samoa’s place in the international rugby community. Despite the competition, the All Blacks are hugely respected in Samoa because of New Zealand and Samoa’s close relationship. Samoa has also historically provided the All Blacks with some of its top players, including many of its current players. To add to the excitement of the game, at least 24 overseas-based Samoan players returned home to represent their home country in the Test match.

After much anticipation, the All Blacks were greeted with a hero’s welcome from the moment they stepped off the plane in Samoa. Every village between the airport and town lined the streets with decorations and flags – the All Blacks were the stars of a parade through Apia.

The national impact of the game was so huge, that the Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegao, declared a half-day public holiday for the entire nation.

Samoan fans celebrate at the All Blacks vs Manu Samoa rugby Test match in Apia Park, Samoa

It was a close and hard-fought match but the All Blacks eventually won, with a final score of 25-16. Despite the outcome, onlookers wouldn’t have known that Samoa had lost the game; the atmosphere in town was electric and everyone celebrated late into the night.

For Tobias, the opportunity provided him with his first professional role since he graduated from Thim Van Der Laan University last September. “I honestly could not have asked for more. Working as a medic allowed me to learn new skills, as well as develop personal traits required in my profession. Being present in the stadium and being part of the atmosphere during the game was phenomenal.”

Tobias’ experience is testament to the opportunities that an overseas volunteering placement can provide. Before his time in Samoa, Tobias was not familiar with rugby, as it is not a popular sport in the Netherlands. But following his involvement with the Samoa Rugby Union, he now hopes to join the Samoan team in the UK when they compete in the Rugby World Cup later this year, opening up many doors for his career as a physiotherapist.

Read more accounts from Projects Abroad volunteers in Samoa and find out about a Physiotherapy placement in Samoa.

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