The deconstruction of the demise of our favourite rugby team, the Manu Samoa has begun. At the centre of the review by S.R.U. is the poor performance of the team under the leadership of current coach Namulau’ulu Alama Ieremia.
Four straight losses this year, big ones too with 165 points scored against the team in four games and only 56 points for. Add three losses from last year and the fall seems steep.
It is. Samoan rugby is reeling and looking for answers.
Something the coach himself is carrying all on his own it seems, as the eyes of the nation are poring his way.
Let’s face it. Casting stones is a national past time. We are very good at it. A lot have been hurled towards Namulau’ulu and his men during the week. By folks who care deeply about their team. The Manu’s demise inducing more reaction than balanced assessment.
That alone shows just how much Manu fans are invested in the welfare of their team and how this decline is affecting them.
What many of us may miss is the drama of selection and availability of players that directly affect results. To that end, it seems Namulau’ulu was dealt a dud hand by some of the senior players.
It is no secret that Manu Samoa played the important Rugby World Cup (RWC) qualifying games against Tonga and Fiji without its first choice front row – Census Johnston, Viliamu Afatia and hooker Manu Leiataua.
All played in the game thrilling test against the All Blacks. Even though the team lost 78-0, the strong performance of the first 20 minutes left a mark of dignity for the team and coach to loosely hang their collective hat on.
The real test would come against Tonga and Fiji. But by then, Manu Samoa’s first choice props in this case, were both back in France. Leiataua had pre-arranged family commitments, while Johnston and Afatia cited club commitments for the need to return to France.
Had Namulau’ulu known of partial commitment to the June campaign from his senior front row forwards, more than likely he would not have picked them for the RWC qualifier and Pacific Nations Cup internationals.
It is something that is not lost on Namulau’ulu, or SRU. Last week after the loss to Fiji, the coach expressed with a breaking voice just how difficult this has been for him. After all, he had done everything to secure a “win for the country”.
From S.R.U’s viewpoint, Namulau’ulu has been a committed employee, but for the results. S.R.U CEO Faleomavaega Vincent Fepuleai acknowledges the coach has done great work in recognising the work required to bridge the gap between new talent and the old.
“He has worked very hard with the senior players to blood-in younger players. That is something he needs to convince the board of the progress he has made.”
Faleomavaega has some sympathy for his coach’s dilemma with the senior props.
“They weren’t very honest about their situation. They came to play the All Blacks, and then they said they had to return. It is very disappointing for the coach.”
Faleomavaega said that the players concerned cited club commitments for their early return. When S.R.U. checked with World Rugby and the Clubs, Racing for Afatia and Toulouse for Johnston it was discovered that the players were released till the end of August.
Taiaisina Tuifua was the third player who cited club commitments to his club (Lyon) who in the end stayed on to play against Tonga.
“Census was a strong hope for the scrum, surely he won’t make the world cup, same as Taiaisina because they are getting on. They came to the All Blacks game and for the entire campaign but after the All Blacks game they said they had to return to France,” said Faleomavaega.
“They are the players who were released until the end of August. It is only pre-season training after all.”
But results on the field remain the all-important issue. It is what the coach will be judged on. That is the norm with international sport where the Coach is the Head of the Team.
“We were very disappointed like everyone else across the Country that the team did not perform to the hype and expectations.”
“We thought the team made some strides against Tonga, where we could have won that game.”
“And I thought that playing at home in front of our people against Fiji would give us a boost.”
It was very disappointing from the union’s point of view.
“For SRU to review the performance of the team and the coach and where Manu went wrong, it must first of all review itself.”
“We are looking at the process where we went wrong around that, at our own processes, from the administration side whether we have supported the team as best as we can”
“The Team received the same treatment and expectation of an international touring side with accommodation, training facilities, and so forth and on-time allowances”
He pointed out that even the independent Pacific Islands Players’ Association (P.I.P.A.) was very pleased with the way Manu players have been taken care of during this campaign.
“All the players agree with the terms and conditions of their welfare and how that has been carried out,” said Faleomavaega.
In the end, it comes down to individual performances, by the players as led by the coach. This is something that is demanded by public fervour as much as it is an employment issue.
At the centre of the review is the 4-year Strategic Plan Namulau’ulu entered into his employment – and that is to take Manu Samoa to the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
When questioned on the Namulau’ulu’s future, the C.E.O. played it safe.
“Any decision around the coach is ultimately the prerogative of S.R.U. Board.”
“First, a review is the proper process to follow and World Rugby will be part of that process. They fund our H.P.U. programme including the Coaches salary.
Faleomavaega says, once completed, the report with recommendation goes to S.R.U. Board to assist in their decision whether Namulau’ulu is the right person to take Manu Samoa to the R.W.C.
Faleomavaega would not commit to a timeframe for the review. It appears that if S.R.U. and World Rugby agree Namulau’ulu is the man to take Samoa to Japan, then he will also be the coach to lead the teams next campaign in the Northern Hemisphere in November – versus Scotland, England and Romania – a team likely to challenge Manu Samoa next for the right to play in the R.W.C.
If there is a change it will come sooner rather than later. A new coach for the northern tour almost seems the right call to make. There is no time next year to re arrange the deck chairs one year out from the R.W.C in Japan.