Self-belief is an amazing quality. Coupled with the tactical nous of a Chief Encouraging Officer in the form of coach Damian McGrath, pride and passion of 12 players in country and themselves, nothing was impossible for the men in blue yesterday.
Indeed, not even staring down the barrel of a 21-0 deficit could shake their resolve, when most people would have already handed the Flying Fijians the Cup for the HSBC Paris Sevens.
Not on this day. Not if this special group of players would have anything to do with it. We’ve seen their meteoric rise over the past months. They have had some fabulous moments, some good moments and then we’ve seen the worst of them.
Dogged by injuries, inconsistency and a number of other challenges not to mention the fact they are a very young and inexperienced team, we somehow knew that one day when they could get it together, they would simply be unstoppable.
And if we are honest with ourselves, not many of us would have given them a chance in Paris this week. It’s too early. The fact they made it to the Cup quarterfinal was as good most of us would have hoped for.
Somehow, McGrath, Muliagatele Brian Lima and the team knew something most of us didn’t. They knew they were just as good as any other team on the paddock.
Unlike teams of the past who would give up as soon as they are behind on the scoreboard, these guys had been conditioned to think differently. They had been told to believe in themselves, back their strengths and abilities and aim for the sky.
Which is precisely what they did.
During the past two days, they had finally gotten it together. From a flying start against Wales where they posted more than 50 points, perhaps they needed the crushing defeat at the hands of Fiji at the end of the first day to keep them grounded so that they would not lose focus when it mattered.
When it comes to cup playoffs, South Africa is one of the worst teams to have as an opponent. They have been in outstanding form this season. Alas Manu Samoa tore up the formbook and kicked it to touch when they outmuscled the Blitzboke to set up a semifinal clash with Argentina.
Two points got them home against the Pumas but then who cares. It doesn’t matter how many points you win by. A win is a win and that’s all we needed to make our first Cup final in a while.
Now, the Flying Fijians have simply been untouchable. We all know how good they are; in fact they are freakishly amazing at times. Ben Ryan and his boys have set the bar so high any team that comes against them will always find it incredibly difficult to bring them down.
In the first stanza, they absolutely made easy work of the men in blue. With three tries on the board, 21-0, most of us all thought that this was it. To make things worse, just when we pulled one back, 21-7, Fiji posted another try to extend their lead, 26-7 at the break.
Usually, when Fiji has such an unassailable lead, they shut the gate.
But then we all heard those words from the man of the moment, coach McGrath.
“Believe in yourselves, you can win this,” he told his players. “You are better than them. Score the first try and put your foot on the juggler.”
That’s exactly what they did. Not only did they score the first try, they scored a few more so that by the last minute, they were ahead by 3 points. But it wasn’t over yet. Fiji had one last chance to steal the game.
They could’ve and they nearly did.
But this was Samoa’s day. The team played the game of their lives, they tackled their hearts out and it is fitting that in the end, it was a desperate body-on-the-line kind of tackle that sealed it.
What a result! What a way to tell the world that Samoa as a Sevens rugby powerhouse is not done and buried yet!
Folks, it has been a long time between drinks. Not since 2014 has this country rejoiced in the spoils of one of its most followed rugby teams. Yesterday was a special moment. It was a throwback to the glory days of the Manu Samoa Sevens where our people would be glued to their TV sets at all sorts of hours to offer their prayers and support.
Many of us did not sleep on Sunday night. Some missed work, others were late, very late and some of us struggled throughout the day. But it is okay. All is well. The success of the Manu Samoa Sevens was a moment to savour.
In the bigger scheme of things, it won’t change much in terms of the HSBC Sevens Series rankings and the like. Besides, we still have to win the last Olympic qualifying tournament in Monaco to secure our ticket to the Rio Olympics.
So why is this victory special?
It’s simple really. We’ve always known that our players are just as good. But yesterday, they found themselves; they discovered that no matter the odds, when they believe and never give up, nothing is impossible. That is the sweetest aspect of this win; it is why we are all so proud of this team.
Here is a word of caution though. It is not the end of the world. We’ve still got the London tournament this weekend and then the Olympics qualifier.
By all means go ahead and celebrate but let’s pray that the players don’t lose focus and get too far ahead of themselves. There is still plenty of work to do. The ultimate prize should be a ticket to Rio and possibly winning Samoa’s first ever Olympic medal later this year.
In the meantime, we want to congratulate the coaching staff of McGrath and Muliagatele, captain Falemiga Selesele and the entire Manu Samoa Sevens team. Malo le finau, malo le lotonu’u.