YAMAGATA, 20 Sep - Mike Alaalatoa had never played an international match when Samoa coach Steve Jackson (NZL) selected him in the World Cup squad less than three weeks ago.
Joining Manu Samoa has meant connecting to his roots in more ways than one, and means he will wear the same jersey his father once sported.
"Playing international rugby is something I've aspired to do since I was a kid – and even better, representing my family and my blood, my heritage," the 28-year-old prop said.
His father, Vili Alaalatoa, also a prop, helped drive Samoa to a quarter-final in the Pacific Island nation's first World Cup in 1991.
"It's pretty special," Alaalatoa said.
"A couple of months after I was born, he was going to the 1991 World Cup so it's a part of my birth history. He was pretty proud and pretty emotional when he found out I'd been selected in the group.
"It's a proud moment for me to be able to wear this emblem as well. But at the same time, I want to create my own legacy in this team and be my own player."
Named in the squad on 31 August, Alaalatoa made his international debut eight days later against Australia - the country in which he grew up and where his father played for two Sydney teams (West Harbour Rugby Football Club and Manly Rugby Union Football Club). Mike's brother Allan, another prop, will line up for the Wallabies in Japan.
With little time for the Crusaders player to get settled into Samoa's RWC 2019 squad, his lineage has made the process easier.
"Coming in late, I wasn't sure of how to approach it because the boys have been together for a long time. They've built relationships and a culture already," Alaalatoa said.
"But from day one I've just been trying to train as hard as I can and earn the boys' respect by working hard and buying into the culture.
"I've been away from Samoan culture for a long time so that part has been really special, having boys speaking Samoan around you every day.
"We've got loto every night, which is a prayer. That was something I did with my grandparents when I was a kid.
"Since my grandparents passed away I haven't really done that as much but here it's a part of our routine to have prayers every night. It's been years since I've been around it and it makes me feel at home."
Samoa are ranked 16th in the world and have never made it further in a World Cup than the quarter-finals (1991, 1995). Facing Russia, Scotland, Japan and Ireland in Pool A, Alaalatoa is confident his side can improve on his father's result from 28 years ago.
"We are not here to make up the numbers, we are here to win the World Cup. Hopefully, we can do better than they did in 1991 - the quarter-finals. We want to also pay respect to the legacy they've laid by performing well," he said.
Apart from his father's support, Alaalatoa has also been given advice from his little brother Allan as both prepare for their World Cup debuts, albeit in different coloured jerseys.
"We've been supporting each other and given each other advice throughout our whole careers, so nothing has really changed," he said.
"The advice we've given each other is to stick to our own plans. We are both here because we're good rugby players so we should go through our process as normal and not let the events get the better of us."