Exciting times lie ahead for Peterborough Lions.
It’s been all change down at their Bretton Park den this summer with a new head coach installed and a dozen new players arriving.
The new coach is former Tongan World Cup star Vili Ma’asi - a 41 year-old with a wealth of experience at top level.
He won 36 caps for his country and played 195 games in the English National Leagues - for Yorkshire Carnegie, Cornish Pirates, London Welsh and Ampthill.
And he has brought with him four brilliant young Tongans - back row players Kepa Latu and Vaha Halifonua and fleet-footed centres Semisi Sitanilei Tei and Suva Ma’asi.
Suva is Ma’asi’s 18 year-old son and has represented England at Under 16 level. Last year he played for the Yorkshire Carnegie Academy.
And while Suva is good, so good in fact that Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs have invited him for a trial, it’s the other centre, Sitanilei, who is causing most excitement down at Bretton Park.
‘Missi’, as he’s become known to his new team-mates, is a current member of the Tonga international sevens squad and in the Lions’ first pre-season friendly at Ampthill on Saturday he showed just why.
His blistering pace was a constant threat to the higher-level opposition and he scored two outstanding long-range tries.
Lions chairman Andy Moore says he’s the best player he’s ever seen at Lions’ level while the club’s director of rugby Simon Moyles, not normally one to get over-excited, described him as ‘a very special talent’.
“The beauty about the Tongans is that they can play in so many positions and they are young. That means our squad now is far more flexible and there’s a better mix of youth and experience,” said Moyles.
“We’ve also added other good players - players like Rory White, who was at the Munster Academy, and promising young front row forwards like Joe Lee and Fergal McNamara.
“It’s a big squad with plenty of strength in depth in all positions. We’ve trained hard, very hard, and there’s been no moaning. We’re all buzzing.”
The Ampthill game finished 33-24 in the National League One club’s favour but the Lions, who play two levels lower in the Midlands Premiership, acquitted themselves well and were leading 24-14 with 55 minutes gone.
“And we had been much the better side for that period” said Moyles. “But they brought on a few really big forwards late on and they overpowered us a bit to pinch a couple of tries.”
Ryan Morris and Dan Milem, another new recruit from Huntingdon, scored the other Lions tries with Nico Defeo adding two conversions.
The Lions play another pre-season friendly on Saturday (August 26) when entertaining National League Two side South Leicester at Bretton Park. Kick-off is at 2.30pm. Admission is free.
n Will Carrington, last season’s first choice fly-half for the Lions, has joined Midlands Division One club Oundle.