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Manu Samoa World Cup disappointment, lessons from Japan and the need for a professional response

Let’s face it.  The Manu Samoa’s 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign was a disappointment. There is no doubt. Even the Samoa Rugby Union, the team’s coaching staff, players and the most loyal of supporters would agree. And that’s not to discredit anyone in particular either. You see, now that we’ve had more than a week to digest what unfolded during the past four weeks, while we might disagree on a few points here and there, the undeniable truth is that we all hurt because we care about this team. After all, Manu Samoa is not called the people’s team for no reason. That is why their progress – or lack of – is followed with such passion and pride. What’s bitterly disappointing is that the Manu Samoa has missed an opportunity to make a statement on the global stage in rugby’s biggest and premium showpiece.But before we go looking for blood, let’s sit down and consider how we arrived where we are today. What happened at the World Cup in Japan was the outcome of several decisions that were made – and the ones that were not made - many years before this year.Indeed, if we are to identify the biggest failure in this campaign, we must go back four years ago to consider what was done then after the 2015 World Cup. The biggest failure, as far as we can see, was the failure to plan properly after 2015. And that failure goes back to the decisions that were made not by coaches and players but by the people driving the Samoa Rugby Union, including the Chairman and the Board. We have to return to the mantra that decisions made in the boardrooms are often and always responsible for the outcomes outside of it. Of course we know administrators do not play rugby. They are not the ones who deliver the dangerous tackles that result in red cards; they don’t commit the foul plays, knock ons and the poor discipline on the field. But in a professional environment, if we are serious, these on field issues are all somehow interrelated.  And they all point to systems set in the boardrooms, that demand excellence at all levels. Ask anyone who understands the make up of the All Blacks and any one of the world’s most successful sporting teams and they will you this.  From the Manu Samoa, we did not see excellence in Japan. But how could we have expected excellence in Japan when all the signs and signals beforehand were nothing but mediocre. We don’t have to tell you the stories, you know, we know and everybody knows. From the selection of the coaching staff to players to administrative matters, it was mediocre all along. We couldn’t possibly have expected anything differently in terms of results. If we did, perhaps we were hoping for a miracle. But even miracles require proper planning these days.Take Japan for instance. Their story, which has been the story of this World Cup, is a fascinating one. When they defeated Ireland in a victory that some people might describe as a miracle, what was revealed then should clearly be a lesson for anyone who wants to succeed.We were told that since the last Rugby World Cup, everything the Japanese Rugby Union did from then until now were geared to achieve their goal of making their first historical quarterfinal appearance. And it showed. Japan clearly had goals and they had a plan of action. They stuck to it, they worked harder that most and although they lost in the quarterfinals to South Africa, by their standards, this has been a hugely successful campaign for the Japanese. It’s a wonderful story; a very basic lesson in how to achieve success. Which is something the Samoa Rugby Union should emulate. Immediately. Samoan rugby’s biggest problem over the years has not been the lack of quality players, talent or the choice of coaches. It has been systematic failures at so many levels that ultimately manifest themselves on the field. We could pick any team, not necessarily the Manu Samoa 15s, and we see the same issues.That is why we keep sacking coaches; managers and so many different officials and we still have the same results. The Manu Samoa Sevens is a classic example. In Sir Gordon Tietjens, we have a man who is arguably the most successful coach in the world and yet sadly after a couple of years, the Sevens programme continues to struggle along. It would be a disaster if we cannot qualify for the Olympics. Getting back to the Manu Samoa 15s, the point is that the Union and the team must undergo a process where everyone on board and everything –including all the systems - are assessed independently. From coaches, players, physical preparation, player fitness, and skill development all the way up to the boardroom. Yes the Chairman included.From that assessment, we need to take the lessons on board, do what needs to be done and set some goals. Realistic goals too. Let’s start by winning a few more regular test matches than we did during the past four years. We need to start planning for the next Rugby World Cup with the idea that everything we do from now onwards should contribute to that big picture.Ladies and gentlemen, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. We cannot keep doing what we have been doing for the past many years. A professional era demands a professional response. We cannot continue with our amateur and unprofessional ways and expect top notch results.There needs to be some changes. Now many people are already calling for heads to roll in the Manu Samoa management team and to some extent they have a point. We want to remind, however, that that is what the Samoa Rugby Union has been doing for the past four years. How coaches have been sacked? And look where it has gotten us?If there are changes, which are inevitable, they need to be strategic changes. They need to be targeted and focused changes with one goal in mind to restore pride in Samoan rugby. Speaking of pride, it would be wonderful to have some Samoan coaches on the Manu Samoa team at the World Cup, wouldn’t it? But then that’s a story for another day.At the end of the day, we can blame World Rugby and everyone else in the world for giving Samoan rugby a raw deal in a number of ways and all the other problems. Or we can make a concerted effort to sort ourselves out and get the right people in place to revive the glory days of Samoan rugby and see this team live up to its true potential. What will the Samoa Rugby Union do? Let’s wait and see.In the meantime, let’s acknowledge with gratitude the sacrifice and the service rendered by the Manu Samoa team in Japan. Many of the players had been representing Samoa proudly for many, many years and Japan was probably their last dance.  To them, we say thank you. Faamalo le lotonu’u, fa’afetai le finau malo mo Samoa. But now is time to think about the future. Seriously.Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa, God bless! 

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Street Talk

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Newborns being abandoned: How do we stop it?

Poutoa Polutele , 41, TufuleleThe solution is within families. The parents should have a connection with their children and they should also teach their child what to do. For the parents, if the girl gets pregnant they should not beat the girl. They should understand and talk with her, because the girl thinks that her parents might beat her and then she makes the wrong decision. It goes back to good relations.Siloi Reopoamo, 53, Saleia Savai’iI think it's very important that parents communicate with their children everyday. One of the biggest issues today is cellphones because too many children spend time on it.  For my family I talk to my kids every time and day, ever since my kids were young. That's my solution.Lina Leiataua, 64, Fa’atoiaI think the whole country should be involved in a programme to encourage girls to speak out when these things happen. We know we cannot stop so we have to be accomodating when it happens. There are also a lot of parents who cannot have children and I think there should be a programme where these children could be adopted. It's just an idea.Api Tuilo’a, 34, Safotu Savai’iOur country needs to repent and ask God for help. I cannot see any other solution unless God is involved. If girls and boys fear God, they wouldn't do what God wouldn't want them to do - and that includes abandoning babies born outside of marriage. We need to be a prayerful nation. Vaisuigi Malio, 52, Vavaai LotofagaThe issue is not new to Samoa. My solution involves families, the relationship between parents and daughter. The kids also need to understand where the parents stand on issues and why they don't want them to get pregnant. But if they do get pregnant, then the parents need to be patient and still work with their children. That's how we solve this.Le’ale’a  Mataia, 39, FalefaGirls who don't have a relationship with their parents would do this. I think that's the first part of the problem. I also think mothers need to read their daughters body language and find out what is going on. Surely there must be signs so they should not be passive. I think we need to tackle this issue as a community rather than individuals. 

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Letter to Editor

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China and developments at Mulifanua

Kevin Hart’s letter of 03 September complained about the Chinese being a likely buyer of Government’s shareholding in the Sheraton Samoa Resort at Mulifanua. Which raises the question; what is wrong with Chinese investors getting involved in tourism development in Samoa anyway especially when there isn’t much interest from elsewhere? Virtually every other country in the Pacific and the world including the US and Australia, China’s foremost critics have been enjoying the benefits of Chinese trade, investment, and tourism. So why not Samoa?Whether people like it or not, China will be a major player in the region, and it will only get worse with time for those who wish it otherwise. And in any case, one can’t do business with China as China’s critics do, and then seek to deny the Pacific Islands the same privilege by engaging in fearmongering about China’s intentions.  Samoa’s deputy prime minister called this bahaviour recently, patronizing and offensive. It is also dishonest. One would have thought that with colonialism still fresh in people’s minds, China’s detractors might have tried some more subtle way to make their case about China being a threat to Island nations. After all, these are nations that have only recently won back their own sovereignty from countries that are accusing China, a victim of colonialism itself, of malevolent intent in the Pacific.  Samoa’s prime minister made the point at the Pacific Island Forum that China is not an enemy of Samoa, which adheres to a “friend to all and enemy to none” approach to old and new comers alike to the region. The Pacific islands have legitimate economic needs and environmental interests that the former colonial powers in the Pacific have been unable to meet or in some cases totally ignored. Over the years, the Pacific Island nations have even been blamed for supposedly lagging in economic growth behind other parts of the world that receive similar levels of aid. But more recent work on the subject has confirmed what the Pacific Islands have known all along. And that is when you are small, highly fragmented and horribly isolated, your costs of attempting any form of economic activity are always going to be high no matter what you do.  China’s willingness and ability to help bridge this aid gap is welcomed therefore. It also helps that China has a different approach in its relations with the tiny and insignificant Pacific Island states and peoples. And it happens it’s an approach that the Pacific peoples themselves understand all too well and appreciate. Its an approach that recognizes the inherent dignity of peoples irrespective of colour, money and level of development. The result is that in spite of the fear mongering about China’s supposedly hidden agenda even in the face of evidence to the contrary, the Pacific Islands have seen no reason to believe this crude and offensive propaganda.  There appears to have been a notable increase lately in the number of visits by navy vessels and personnel from the US and Australia doing the usual public relations soft sell with various groups including school children. The visit on board these war machines and the helicopter rides for the children will have been the thrill of a lifetime for many. One suspects that we will be seeing more of these as the West sets out to contain the rise of Chinese influence in the region. The visits bring back to mind the colonial days of gun boat diplomacy in the Pacific when control of native populations was exercised mainly through the firepower of visiting warships when turned on native communities that failed to toe the line   Samoa’s prime minister is reported to have said recently in relation to the stepped-up competition that Samoa’s main interest and focus of diplomacy is to raise standards of living and provide for its people’s needs. In the circumstances, public relations and making friends with young people will only go so far in winning influence especially in the face of China’s hard cash. Airy catch phrases such as Step Up, (Australia), Pacific Uplift, (UK), something about Family? (US), can easily backfire. A meeting between Chinese leaders and Pacific Island leaders being hosted by Samoa in October this year should be quite an event especially at this time. It will most likely see among other things the unveiling of some new aid and trade initiative by China.   And as for Chinese interests possibly helping to bring more air services to Samoa, that too would be a welcome relief from the monopolistic practices of Air New Zealand, Virgin Airways and Fiji Airways, the three carriers that operate services in Samoa today. After being badly burnt in yet another one-sided partnership with an Australian carrier, the Samoan government did the right thing for Samoa in starting up Samoa Airways in spite of the risks and poor timing. When Polynesian Airlines started international services to New Zealand in the late 1970s, it did so mainly on the strength of Samoa’s own ethnic traffic between the two countries. The airline did well even then, until gross mismanagement grounded it with heavy losses. In spite of its inauspicious beginnings, Samoa Airways if properly managed and run, (by professionals preferably), has every chance of being the catalyst for Samoa to have the airline services it so badly needs. But it is helpful as government embarks on this to be reminded that we have been down this very road before. The lessons of history are there and must be learnt and heeded, if their repetition is to be avoided. Incidentally, as for a possible flooding of the To-Sua with tourists from China if direct charter flights were to start between China and Samoa, I have a suggestion. Make the climb down to the water even more challenging than it is now. That should encourage only the young and the brave to take the plunge. Afamasaga F ToleafoaLetava

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