It has been three years since Tuifa’asisina Bryan Williams visited Samoa.
This week, the former Manu Samoa coach is back home, having been recently knighted as Sir Bryan Williams after the Queen of England herself recognised the son of Samoa’s chiefly qualities and long time service to rugby.
Tuifa’asisina is delighted to be back, even more so to be here during Samoa’s Independence day weekend which brought out a bit of nostalgia in him.
He sat down with the Samoa Observer and reminisced about the first time he landed on Samoan soil in 1984.
“I never actually came to Samoa until I was 34 years old,” he said.
“That was the first time that I came and it was quite emotional touching down for the very first time knowing that’s what your heritage is.”
In 1984, Tuifa’asisina was invited to play in the Samoa Marist Sevens tournament.
He enjoyed it so much that when the former Head of State Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi approached him about getting involved with the Manu Samoa team, Williams took up his invitation.
It result in him dedicating a decade to playing and serving a country he was still trying to get to know but one he knew he belonged to.
“Obviously I really enjoyed it and I was emotional. The timing was perfect and I decided to get involved and I was involved for the next ten years with Manu Samoa. It came at the right time for me because I was just finishing off my career coaching Auckland with my great friend Morris Trap.”
Having not been in the Samoan rugby machine since then, the former All Black said that while he cannot weigh in deeply on the state of rugby in Samoa currently but as a former Manu Samoa player he did feel a sense of disappointment.
“I guess it’s disappointing for those of us who have gone before just to see the results and just the fall in the rankings of Samoan rugby. They ranked seventh in 2012 or 2013, now they’re down to 16th. So it’s going to take a lot to climb back up the rankings.
“That obviously means that you don’t get the big games like you normally would in as a matter of course, when you’re in the top eight you do get them and we did get them - all the time back then. But you know, I think we all hope that they are able to turn things around and get back on track.”
Asked to comment on what’s missing in the state of Manu Samoa rugby today compared to his days as a player and coach, Tuifa’asisina said honestly that he did not know what’s missing because he’s not involved.
Instead he could speak on the factors that contributed to the great team culture and team spirit that existed in his time in the Manu.
“Back then a lot of guys were willing to go the extra mile,” Tuifa’asisina said.
“Back in the days when we really did put Samoa rugby on the map, we knew we had a big chance in creating history if we did things reasonably right and we didn’t get everything right but we got a lot right and we built up a great team culture and great team spirit.”
Starting off in the Manu Samoa as an amateur player, Tuifa’asisina remembered that he and his team mates were definitely doing it for the love of the game and the love of Samoa.
This contributed to a series of breakthrough successes when the Manu Samoa announced their arrival on the world scene in 1991.
“We just had a wonderful team spirit,” he said.
“I guess since the game has gone professional, you have all these players who are playing in different parts of the world, under different cultures, under different regimes.
“When they come back to join up as a team, they haven’t got enough time to work on combinations and techniques and get everyone on the same page so I think that’s a real issue.
“Professional rugby is a different beast, people playing for money that tends to be the major motivation rather than the love for the game and wanting to put Samoa on the map.”
The Rugby Hall of Famer fairly points out that the Manu Samoa have had good spells in 2003 and particularly in 2011 at the World Cup when they managed to beat Australia in the same year.
But there are no shortage of good Samoan athletes or Pacific rugby players around the world playing for different countries, says Tuifa’asisina.
He insists that there is no reason why we can’t have that for the Manu Samoa.
“We produce some great athletes and rugby players so it is a bit surprising that we aren’t doing better on the world stage,” he said.
“There’s been lots of really good players. Just looking at rugby in New Zealand and certainly in Auckland where I come from – most of the players are Polynesian and particularly Samoans.”
“Right throughout the world now, there are Samoans in the England team, in Australia. Samoans are producing a lot of really good rugby talent so we need to do it for the Manu and consistently.”
The former All Black reiterates his stance on Samoa’s need to play in Super Rugby to boost the standard of Samoan Rugby.
“One of the big problems and I’m sure the rugby union are probably well aware of it is that they’re not in Super Rugby - if they sort that one out, it’ll be the start of a new rebirth.
“By having a team in Super Rugby and playing test matches against the Super rugby countries and then you include Tonga, Fiji and then you’ve then got a chance of improving your standard but also creating a bigger amount of money, bigger revenue pool from T.V rights and the like.”
Tuifa’asisina chuckles when asked why that is the case.
“The excuse the bigger unions make is that Samoa is not a television audience in terms of pay per view television but the thing is - the Polynesians are the entertainers of world rugby,” he laughs.
“It doesn’t matter where they play or whatever, they’re the entertainers and people want to watch them, so that excuse doesn’t wash with me.”
Looking back on his time spent in Samoa as a player and then as a Coach, the rugby legend has very little regrets saying that he loved his time with the Manu being involved for ten seasons and going to three World Cups,
“They were great experiences we had really good wins during all three of the world cups, made the quarter finals twice and just missed out the third time so there were lots of real positives.”
Asked what to share some of the hardest decisions he has made in his decade with the Manu Samoa and Tuifa’asisina says without skipping a beat, that the worst decision was always having to tell someone that they had been dropped from the team.
“That was always the worst part but when you’re coaching a team like the Manu, there’s a lot of pressure on always and as we had more success the expectation was bigger. You had to win there was no excuse of losing even if it was against the All Blacks or France or England.
“Always a lot of pressure so when you won, you were relieved and when you lost you were the villain, it was your fault. So you soon learn that coaching is a very hazardous job.”
Tuifa’asisina saw many a talented player in his time as Manu Samoa Coach but naturally he says, that does not always translate to a long successful career,
“I saw lots of them. There were many players who could have been great players but just had the wrong attitude. Attitude is everything in rugby, it governs all your relationships with your team mates and how hard you train, whether you’re going to turn up on time.”
Is it more important than talent?
“Talent will only carry you so far but its attitude that will carry you the whole way and if you’ve got both – then you’ve got it made.”
Swapping the stresses of coaching rugby for more of a life coach role these days Sir Bryan and his lady Lesley keep busy with their 13 grandchildren especially attending as much of their sport games as possible and Sir Bryan admits that there is no side line coaching come from the rugby legend at these events,
“We got quite a number of grandbabies playing rugby so our Saturday mornings are pretty busy we get out and about.” He says proudly “We got some netballers as well, we try and watch them play as well.”
“There’s not really any side line coaching going on, we learnt quite early in the piece particularly with my two boys. The more I could keep my mouth shut, the more we got on,” he laughs
Tuifa’asisina Sir Bryan Williams is also the patron of the New Zealand Barbarians Club. He is a Trustee of the New Zealand Rugby Foundation who loos after severely injured rugby players. As well as being in the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame he is also on the Ponsonby Rugby Committee.