The impossible job?

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By Daniel Leo For ESPN


The issues Namulauulu Alama Ieremia must address if Samoa is to succeed

Rugby runs through people’s veins in the Pacific. Since missionaries first introduced the concept in the late 1800s, the game exploded in popularity and Polynesians in particular became obsessed with rugby as a pastime. 

Not just on the biggest islands of Tonga, Samoa or Fiji either; look through World Rugby’s 100 top-seeded nations and you will see the likes of the Cook Islands, American Samoa, the Solomon’s, Vanuatu, even Niue -- with its population of under 2,000 -- are present.

But funding international rugby programmes comes at huge expense to our tiny and impoverished island economies. Often it is public services, hospitals and schools who bear the brunt of that cost. In this respect entire islands are affected, the highs of success and troughs of failure ridden by all.

After what was a woeful Rugby World Cup display by the top three Pacific Island teams, it comes as no surprise then that just over a little two months on people are still hurting. With only Fiji coming out of it with any credibility, the aftermath has been expectedly harsh, with Samoa and Tonga head coaches Stephen Betham and Mana Otai losing their jobs. As Stuart Lancaster will attest, coaching is a thankless task. Given the riches of professional talent at Samoa and Tonga’s disposal though, the string of poor results means the dismissals are probably justified.

In Samoa the ache of World Cup failure subsided for a moment with the announcement of Betham’s dismissal and news the Samoan Rugby Union were to scour the globe for the best possible replacement. No expense would be spared, the public were promised. It was later disclosed that an independent panel, headed by former All Black Captain Graham Mourie, would handle the selection process at the insistence of World Rugby.

In a country where the sport has been decimated by political interference this was music to every Samoan’s ear: a glimmer of hope after years of frustration. As the weeks rolled by, the pain eased further and speculation built about who would be tasked with restoring pride into the beloved royal blue jersey. Robbie Deans? Aussie McLean? Or Ewen McKenzie, perhaps? After all the disappointment of late, Samoans around the world dared to dream once more.

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