For a brief moment we saw Samoa come together once again for the passion and love for 7’s rugby as we witnessed a stunning performance by our young team in Singapore.
Proving once again we are still capable of taking on some big names in 7’s rugby; first with a nail biting win against Hong Kong/world champions Fiji, 28-14 then securing the plate by beating the mighty New Zealand squad 26-21.
Now with the team back home safe and sound we have a little under 21 days before they surprise us again in Paris…… hopefully.
“This recent leg of the 7’s has been a roller coaster in terms of our performances, despite being in a very tough group we were confident with putting up a good show in Hong Kong,” Head Coach Damien McGrath said to Samoa Observer.
“I was really disappointed with all aspects of our performance; there is nothing more frustrating as a coach than when a group of players you have every confidence in does not perform to their potential.
“The players themselves were equally down; the reasons for our results were obvious -unforced errors and the pressure this puts on our defence.”
On the other hand, Singapore 7’s saw a totally different team.
“In Singapore we focused heavily on these aspects in our team meetings and practices; again I was confident if we could be more consistent in these areas then we would be a team to be reckoned with.” Mr. McGrath said.
“This proved to be the case as we produced our best all round games; our two defeats to England and Argentina were by just one score; we comfortably beat the World Champions Fiji as well as the All Blacks side, which included two World Cup winners in its ranks (Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams).”
According to the Head Coach, defence was their key focus.
“Because we are a much smaller team than our competitors we have to defend as a unit and take the space away from the opposition,” he said.
“This, as you might expect, is easier said than done and relies on all seven players working together; In Hong Kong we weren’t quite there but got it right in Singapore.
“Unforced errors have been a problem all season and when World Rugby produces its monthly statistics we are top of the table for errors; this is where our major problem lies.
“The key to any success for our team lies in significantly reducing our error rate. We did this better in Singapore and the results told their own story.”
Mr. McGrath assures his fans that he is doing the best he can possibly do with what he has available to him.
“I know Samoa has a proud history of 7’s rugby, but the group of players I first met back in September last year were unfit and unenthusiastic,” he said.
“To get them fit and then try and bring back some faith in the 7’s programme were my initial goals, we tried to look at as many ‘on island’ players as possible.
“The talent is definitely out there but the standard of the rugby left a lot to be desired; Coming from the UK where Samoan rugby is held in such high esteem I was shocked by what I discovered.
“Instilling a professional approach to players who are not used to it, polishing skills, improving game understanding and acquiring peak fitness takes time.
“In this world of ‘fast’ food, ’instant’ coffee, ‘instant’ Internet etc. people expect instant results so patience amongst supporters isn’t always something that can be relied upon; I tried to ignore the critics who were quick to point out our deficiencies, as I knew we could get things in a much better shape over time.”
Producing perfect results with amateur rank players in no easy task says Mr. Mcgrath.
“I looked overseas to see if we could improve the quality of our squad; the NZ based Samoans we found were players in the amateur ranks in Auckland and Wellington who were for the most part overlooked by the New Zealand representative system.
“They were prepared to sacrifice their jobs and time with their families to commit for Samoa and to prove the selectors in New Zealand wrong; I have always had faith in this young group of players.
“I was prepared from the start to try and build a team, which if kept together, would lift Samoa back into the top half of the World 7’s;
“With an average age of just 23yrs and with the least experience of any other team in the World Series I knew this would take time and that there would be plenty of criticisms on the way.
“However I don’t think anything prepares you for the barrage of abuse on social media that follow any Samoa defeat; I know that there are many knowledgeable people who can see the improvements in the team, the players and I are always thankful for the many supportive messages.”
The World Series is now a huge global event watched by a TV audience of about 740 million people in 160 countries.
It is big business and with its introduction into the Olympics it will grow even bigger.
“Virtually all the teams have invested heavily in their 7’s programmes over recent years and (especially in this Olympic year) have filled their teams with high profile internationals and players from professional leagues as well as big names from Super Rugby.” Mr. McGrath said.
“By contrast we are a tiny island of around 180,000 people; we do not have the financial resources to match our direct competitors and we cannot call on any players from the professional ranks, yet we still compete far better than we have any right to.
“Even teams outside of the big nations, such as France, Kenya, Argentina, Scotland, Russia and Canada, for example, pack their squads with full internationals and are all full time professionals.
“We must put our expectations in context and be realistic about what we expect our young men to achieve given their backgrounds and our resources.
“However our team of players from the villages of Samoa and amateurs from the local leagues in New Zealand love representing their country, they have talent that is admired worldwide and as they showed last weekend can, given the opportunity, match it with the best.
“If we can keep this group into next season then we all have reasons to be optimistic about the future of Samoa 7’s.”
As for preparation for Paris and the Olympic qualifiers in June, the team will work as hard as possible after a short break.
“This next period of time is the most important part of the season for us. We have been building towards the Olympic qualifiers in June,” Mr. McGrath said.
“The players report back for training next Tuesday after a well earned break; we have all the players fit from Singapore with just a few minor injuries.
“Fitness is now in a maintenance phase and our ‘work on’s’ will be our basic skills and our systems of attack and defence.
“I always meet with the player’s one on one to give them individual feedback and we will continue our team video feedback as we look to build on our strengths and reduce our errors.”
Sadly, the team still faces a few issues.
“Unfortunately the clubs in Europe have been very uncooperative in regards to player release; So despite our best efforts we will not have access to any of our star 15’s players such as Paul Perez, TJ Ioane etc.”
“Whilst this is really disappointing for the whole country, I’m confident our new, young team will be more than a match for whoever we meet.
“We train everyday at the High Performance Unit in Apia and I invite anyone who’s interested to come down and watch if they have the time, you will always be warmly welcomed.”