Former Manu Samoa Under 20s coach, Fa’aofonuu Junior Leota, has responded to what he described as “very harsh accusations” by the Samoa Rugby Union against him.
In a letter to the Samoa Observer, he said the Samoa Rugby Union’s response to an Open letter from parents of an unhappy junior player has had a huge impact on him, his family and his professional career.
Fa’aofonu’u uses the letter to share his concerns during his time as Head Coach of Samoa U20 National Team and what led to his departure. The letter is published verbatim, just as the Samoa Rugby Union’s response was last week:
I am very well aware of the very serious accusations made against my character by the Samoa Rugby Union during my time as Head Coach for U20s Samoa Rugby Team.
Before I comment I would like to apologise to the Chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union and the Board of Directors for not fulfilling my role as Head Coach and delivering your expectations.
I would also like to Apologise to my dear parents whom are all very hurt and very much affected by these accusations as they have been very supportive of me from the time I was selected as coach.
My family and my village and my dear country Samoa, o a lava ni sese ma ni tuuaiga ua afaina ai o outou suafa mamalu, e faamalulu atu, e poto le tautai ae se lana atu i ama o a ni sese o la outou auauna nei, ia lafoia ile tuagalu.
My wife and kids, thank you for your support from day one and I am very sorry on how this has defamed our family’s reputation and belittled my character as a husband and especially as a Father.
In 2016, I was selected as Assistant Coach for U20 that was prepping for the Junior Championships.
I had travelled to Zimbabwe with the team in the same year and we gained excellent results from this tournament. As a result of this I was given the opportunity to apply and was selected to become Head Coach for our National U20s Team.
In my understanding of the issues raised from SRU that I hadn’t any training plans for the team, I believe there is no coach in any sport that does not have a plan. I know that to have effective good coaching begins with good planning.
We had set the framework as a team and merely discussed this within our management thus making objectives and following up with evaluations bearing in mind the stage of growth and development of the players.
At most times I would discuss my training plans with our trainer to coincide with his plans with the presence of everyone else in the management including our Technical Advisor who is now the head coach of U20s as we all had a big plans and a great vision to push through with the team.
There were also times that my plans were rubbished and pushed under the table due to the Unions financial constraints, or in easier words, JP e leai se kupe.
Earlier this year we held trials where I travelled to Australia and New Zealand with two selectors, one as a representative of the rugby Union and the other Mahonri. In reference to the number of players whom were invited to trial in Apia, the 50 as stated in the article by SRU is including all the Local players from Upolu and Savaii.
With the overseas based players, the selector from the Rugby Union and I had approached and discussed with parents of the players invited to trial in Samoa explaining all the process and procedures, requirements, expenses and risks involved with the invitation.
We had discussed accommodations and before heading to Australia I had discussed my plan with the Manager of the High Performance Unit , Brian Hopley and he was well aware and made no objections to this plan until later upon our return from the trials that he then disagreed with me.
In this regard I wanted to offer every possible player /kid out there with a passion to play for Samoa the opportunity to trial and give everyone the best chance made available to trial for team Samoa.
It was a way of involving not just rugby but adapting their love and respect for our culture for our country and I also believe it may influence them and all overseas based Samoans young players to have a desire to play for our Manu Samoa instead of All Blacks and other prominent Teams despite the fact that we don’t have money.
The players under my watch as Head Coach who travelled from overseas where accommodated at the HPU headquarters at Tuanaimato. However if the facilities were not up to standard as per expectations of parents, I really do apologise.
The HPU is looked after and managed by Brian Hopley. I too have tried my best to help out with small things up at the Headquarters just to make the kids feel comfortable.
I understand it’s a training camp and we are not to offer luxury accommodation but I feel that the basic things that are needed like clean drinking water, toilet paper as mentioned in letter from Mrs Lolesio is overlooked by the Manager and are not provided and made available for players. In saying so at one stage I took my fridge up to HPU so the kids can keep their drinks and food cool.
I had also sought sponsorships to get water coolers and refilled bottles of clean water, providing and paying for daily meals including fruits and energy drinks that were requested by the players only to name a few. With my commitment to this team I made it my priority to take good care of the players making sure their basic needs are accommodated for.
I will not go into details about all the other things that I had provided out of my own pocket and good heart. However I would like to place a very genuine comment that if Brian Hopley understood our way of living and valued our children living at HPU, there wouldn’t be any problems.
After the final selection of our team for Oceania, I decided that it will be beneficial for the team if we go into camp. Through sponsorship and support from my family and friends we were very fortunate to camp at St Therese prior to our Oceania tournament.
We moved here for camp for one week prior to Oceania. It was never my intention to run away from the daily monitoring and overview of my training methods as mention in response by SRU.
The idea was very clear and came from a clean heart. I wanted to provide a different scenery and environment away from HPU and create a good atmosphere to motivate them and work on their Skills development, tactical awareness and have them mentally and physically prepared for Oceania.
DUTY OF CARE
At the Oceania Tournament, we went into a 3 hour meeting to discuss our loss against Australia and it was there I noted that there was conflict between the players, myself and the whole management.
We were working on issues and as to what every coach should do is to try and find ways to solve the problem hence the lengthy meeting. It was there that I saw my failures as well, as a coach, basically trying to keep the players in spirit and as a team.
Again I do apologise for this. I received a message through the Trainer Keegan Murphy from SRU asking whether the meeting was of any relevance. After the meeting the players, Myself and management reconciled and reinstated our focus to do better.
We were then transit to Fiji and we went into a meeting with the Assistant Coach Setu Tuilaepa and Keegan Murphy as we had to finalise our team for world cup and have the final list sent to Brian Hopley and World Rugby ASAP.
This final list was sent from Fiji and Ethan Lolesio and Paul Faalogo were on the list. The final list I believe where for IRB listings and travel bookings. It is here I would like to emphasize on the promises I did not deliver and quoted from another serious accusation by SRU as these boys names were on our final list sent from Fiji for the World Cup.
Upon my arrival in Samoa from Oceania I was summoned by the Union and was asked to resign.
I felt great disappointment as I had a huge vision for the World Cup and I felt I had let my team and Samoa down. Two weeks into world cup I know it was an unfair decision not only for me but also for the players.
There were possible alternatives and other avenues that could be used to save the Team before World Cup. I had bigger plans with my coaching career to serve Samoa, our people and mainly to develop our children in the sport of rugby but I understand they wanted me out so I respected their decision.
It was there I travelled to New Zealand to be with my family and our new bundle of blessings.
I apologise to the parents of the players if I had shown offensiveness or harmed them in any way through my coaching trainings. If I failed your children and if I caused and created emotions with boys, I own up with my failures as a coach and I take full responsibility for my actions.
I would like to Apologise to the parents of Ethan Lolesio again for failing and not delivering my part as coach.
Lastly I would like to relay my final remarks and my opinion to the Chairman and Board of the Samoa Rugby Union basically in reference to the High Performance Unit that if they ever were to make changes in the Union I suggest we have someone local who is capable of doing the job as manager the HPU and have local qualified trainers as this is the foundation of rugby development in Samoa. A person who understand our morals our culture and has respect for our people and does not undermine the capability of local coaches and players.
I take this opportunity to wish Samoa Rugby Union, the Current Head Coach for U20s Mahonri Schwalger the team, the management and all the future players All the Best. In the hopes that we move forward from all this I sincerely wish everyone’s desires are fulfilled and completed.
Fa’aofonuu Junior Leota