Winning the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games gold medal is probably one of the biggest achievements for rugby in Samoa this year.
And when you stop to consider the make up of the team that achieved the feat, with the bulk of the players coming from Savai’i, you would have to agree that it takes someone very special to put the team together and get the players to believe in themselves.
That person is La’auli Rudy Le’avasa, who is not a stranger to Samoan rugby and coaching.
But it was his work in preparing a team of locals who then went on to overcome tremendous odds in the Bahamas – including defeating England in the final – that makes him a stand out this year.
“The team I took with me to Bahamas was a very unique team,” he said.
“All from different backgrounds and high schools, but I had to establish something for them. Five players were from Vaiola College and fewer from Leulumoega Fou College and Wesley College students.”
La’auli said there were many challenges.
“The challenges include the lack of sponsors to the absence of supporting facilities and equipment to assist and train our players for any national teams.”
One of the biggest issues was the safety of young players.
But he did not give up. He was motivated by his love of the players and he wanted them to succeed.
“I’m enjoying this career. What I am doing is passing the knowledge to the young kids because we will not be here forever.”
“We have to share it with the future generation so that our young players can have the talent to be able to contribute, support and provide for their families via rugby.”
“From my experience in coaching some National teams, I have come to realize the potential that our players have.”
“Our local based players can match the level of our brothers playing overseas.”
The team that won in the Bahamas was an example.
“It was a wonderful experience to win with those boys. It was an opportunity to expose them overseas and to see what they could do.”
La’auli is confident that a number of players on that team will be playing for the Manu Samoa in the future.
Growing up in Vaiala, La’auli was destined to be involved in the sport.
It started with his Village’s team and then at Leifiifi College, he scored a rugby scholarship to New Zealand where he played for Nelson College.
After moving back to Samoa, La’auli went on to represent Samoa in age group national teams, Samoa and Manu Samoa.
“That’s where my coaching experience and interests came from,” he said.
La’auli said he started coaching while he was playing as a way to give back to the young generation. He said it was also when one of their Club teams needed someone to be in charge.
Since then he has won several national titles as a coach. He speaks highly of the recent Super Nine competition.
“I would like to acknowledge the Samoa Rugby Union for bringing the Super 9 tournament,” he said.
“We have seen so many opportunities and a window to try and expose our local talents and rugby players.”
Mr. La’auli also acknowledged a few people who contributed to his success as a coach.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my dear parents for supporting me and my dream since my primary school days.”
“I would also like to thank our church at Vaiala and all my villagers and families.”
“I would also like to acknowledge Stephen Betham, Namulau’ulu Alama Ieremia and Potu Le’avasa for their contribution to my career.”
“Samoa Rugby Union was also there in supporting me while getting on with the career, so I also like to thank Chief Executive Faleomavaega Vincent Fepuleai.”
The 39-year-old is the son of Tofaeono Vui Fa’atali Le’avasa and Elsa Aiono Le’avasa.
He hails from Vaiala, Fasito’o-uta, Lalomanu, Lano, Pu’apu’a, Sapunaoa, Saoluafata and Utuali’i.
La’auli is married to, Yvette Kerslake, and they have a two-week old baby, Elsa Maria Nafoua’ina Delphina Le’avasa.