We’re not going to lie. There is a lot of work to be done for the Manu Samoa Sevens in the upcoming months, including this weekend during the second leg of the H.S.B.C Sevens Series.
But having watched their performance in Dubai last week, although the results could have been better, there is reason to be optimistic. We know that with the right training and the tactical nous of Sir Gordon Tietjens and Stephen Betham, the team is in good hands.
What we want them to know ahead of this weekend’s tournament in South Africa though is that they should no longer think of themselves as unworthy contestants on the big rugby stage.
Instead, they should believe in themselves and back their ability to beat any team on the planet. Although the team is young and relatively inexperienced, there is enough talent there to win.
And with a bit of self-confidence, we can win anything we set our minds to. We’ve done it before.
Besides, rugby players from this part of the world have consistently shown that on their day, they are just as good – if not better - than most players. There is therefore no reason to doubt their ability.
Against England, we were unlucky to lose to a much more experienced team. It was the same against New Zealand. It was unfortunate.
Of course we accept that the team will take a few tournaments to gel. It’s a new set up with new players.
But there are promising signs there from what we’ve seen so far.
And although Dubai’s results were disappointing, at least it gave us an idea about the amount of work we need to do.
But key to what they have to do is to build their self-confidence and get them to start believing in themselves. They are a talented group but they just don’t know that just yet.
You see, from our observation over the years, the difference between successful Manu Sevens teams of yesteryears and that of today seems to be confidence and self-belief among the players.
When we won the World Sevens Series, that team not only grew in confidence in themselves, they also came to develop trust in the team as a unit. You could see that in the way they played.
Before they came along, Samoa was regarded as the flamboyant boys of rugby. We were considered the entertainers, the guys who tackled hard – and high - but never really capable of playing structured rugby.
Then during the time of Ofisa Treviranus, Simaika Mikaele and Alafoti Faosiliva, the perception slowly changed. That’s because their work in the forwards set the platform for the backline to work their magic. They dominated the breakdown, they put the fear of God into their opponents in that area and when they had the ball, there was only one way they knew and that was straight up ahead.
Needless to say, the team not only adopted a more structured approach, there was a marked improvement on the overall performance in terms of set pieces. That was the key to Samoa’s success then.
And it’s fair to say that particular teams change the dynamics in the way Sevens is now played. If you look at the teams that have dominated in recent years, it is predominantly the teams who dominate up front. It is the teams who win their restarts, keep the ball and fight for every bit of possession at the breakdown.
That’s what this team needs to do.
Without a doubt, Faosiliva, Treviranus, Lui and Uale Mai have set the scene and created a nice template for Samoa to follow. They have now moved on allowing new players to take a shot.
And that’s the way life is. It’s not the end of the world. Tila Mealoi has grown immensely over the years; he is potentially a Uale Mai when he has his head in the right place. Players like Ed Fidow and Samoa Toloa are speed merchants. Siaosi Asofolau has the making of a great forward. And with a bit more fitness, Lio Lolo’s presence is menacing.
The point is that while we’re not exactly the favourites to win this weekend – and we probably won’t - there is no reason why we cannot win.
Looking at the team on paper, we’ve still got an impressive line up.
But they need to believe in themselves, back their ability and play the kind of rugby we know they are capable of.
Here is wishing the Manu Samoa Sevens all the best for this weekend, God bless!