Try doing the basics right … like catching the ball

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 June 2018, 12:00AM

It wasn’t a perfect start, let alone a winning one, but if we are honest with ourselves, many of us were quietly happy with the effort from the Manu Samoa last week during their opening game of the Pacific Nations Cup.

You see new beginnings are always exciting. Anxious times too. Which is what it was last week. And given the recent history of the team’s results, no one in their right mind was prepared to bet their last tala on the Manu Samoa beating Fiji in front of their home fans.

And so our worst fears were proven correct at the start at least. When the Flying Fijians literally flew away with the game to the point where they led 24-3 at one stage, we all had that sense of dejavu.

Alas, the men and blue came alive towards the end to provide us with a thrilling final few minutes. We finally saw what Samoan rugby was truly capable of and in the end; they fell just short by two points. Pity that.

In the wash up, Captain Chris Vui and Coach Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua have fingered the blame on the number of silly and unforced errors made by the team.

They are right. Some of those errors cannot be forgiven in this day and age where all those players are playing professional rugby. One of the most basic skills is to be able to catch the ball and yet that was found sorely wanting.

And then there was the form of some of the player who looked like they were well beyond their used by dates. If we are honest with ourselves, what hurt the most last week was the idea that this was a game where Samoa should have won. It wasn’t the best of Fiji but then the Manu Samoa wasn’t prepared well enough either. Certainly a missed opportunity.

Captain Vui is technically correct when he lamented the short time the team had had before the game. 

But here’s the thing, some of those errors were really unbecoming of a team full of professional players, many of them having held the status for more than ten years. Besides, this is always the challenge for the Manu Samoa – and many of these Pacific teams – who have to try and put teams together from all over the world. After all these years of international rugby experience, you would think we would know how to handle it a bit better now?

Which begs the question, what will it take to turn things around? 

Today is another opportunity; this time the challenge will come from Tonga.

Make no mistake about it, Ikale Tahi will be a different beast not only in terms of traditional rivalry but with the style they will bring. If last week’s battle against Fiji was physical, today against Tonga will be even more brutal. It will be a war of attrition that will be won by the team that wants it the most.

Tonga started slow and found themselves chasing the game against Georgia last week, which they narrowly lost. Samoa did the same against Fiji.

This weekend, the teams cannot make the same mistake.

For Samoa, we need to start well and keep hammering away at the same pace. That said, Coach Fuimaono has made a number of changes to the team – some of them forced by injury concerns. Those changes could make or break a team. It could either work for or against us, especially when things don’t go well.

But there will be no excuses.

As we’ve said from the start, the ultimate goal for this campaign is for Samoa to find their form and the best team to win the Rugby World Cup qualifiers against Germany or Portugal. Even if we lose all these Pacific Nations Cup Games, the most important result is that we qualify for next year’s tournament in Japan. That should ultimately be the focus. 

But it will be nice to beat Tonga. 

The Manu Samoa should not underestimate them. We know Tonga has a big forward pack and a backline that are just as massive as their forwards. They are aggressive and they have the potential to run rampant if the Manu Samoa does not contain them early on. It’s a big job but we’d like to think that the men in blue have got this covered.

Lastly, despite the recent run of events, the Manu Samoa will forever remain the people’s team. It is a team that belongs to Samoa and it will always be that way. That is why the weight of expectation is so heavy; it is also why we love them in this part of the world. They are our team.

The truth is that it has been a long time between drinks when it comes to the Manu Samoa 15s and Samoan rugby. As a rugby mad nation; a winning team is well overdue. Let’s hope that team turns up in Suva today. O outou mama na.

Have a restful Saturday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 June 2018, 12:00AM

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