This is the one that counts. There is no place for coming second.
The equation for Samoa is quite simple. Win the tournament in Monaco and the Manu Samoa Sevens are off to join 11 other teams at the historical Sevens tournament at the Rio Olympics later this year.
The other side of the coin is quite bleak. Should they fail to achieve their aim, in the words of coach Damian McGrath, it would have simply been a waste of a season for the men in blue. It’s not hard to understand McGrath’s point.
For the Manu Samoa Sevens, this is the tournament that matters. This is where they need to make it count.
While many of us have been impressed with the meteoric rise of this young squad under McGrath and Muliagatele Brian Lima’s tutelage, the ante has been upped for next week and nothing but first place will suffice.
There are no places for second place or coming remotely close to first. The winner takes all and for us, it has to be the Manu Samoa Sevens.
No ifs no buts.
Vying for the one spot are Uruguay, Chile, Canada, Mexico, Spain, Russia, Germany, Ireland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Samoa, Zimbabwe, Morocco and Tunisia.
While on paper, the teams look relatively easy to beat and you’d expect Samoa to reach their goal, we know it’s going to be difficult. Besides we are talking about Sevens rugby where anything could happen.
Realistically the only teams that should trouble Samoa are Canada, Russia, Tonga and to some extent Tunisia who feature now and then on the World Rugby Sevens Series.
But lets not get too far ahead of ourselves. We certainly should not forget the lessons from the Oceania qualifying tournament where out of nowhere Tonga gave Samoa an embarrassing hiding during the semifinals in Auckland, denying us that opportunity.
Make no mistakes folks, Tonga have not been sleeping. They have been doing their homework and they are likely to feature a star-studded team because of the significance of the prize on offer.
For most athletes, the chance to represent one’s country at the Olympics is the opportunity of a lifetime. We’ve seen the lure of the Olympics already with some very high profile rugby names signing up including Sonny Bill Williams, Liam Messam, Bryan Habana, Quade Cooper and most recently Jaryd Hayne among many others. These players and their teams mean business.
Once upon a time, New Zealand was the safest bet to win any Sevens tournament. Not any more. Their form of late has been worrying to say the least but let’s not underestimate Gordon Tiejens and his men.
They know what they are doing and do not be surprised if they have plotted to sacrifice the World Series title to keep their plans for Rio relatively obscured. We haven’t yet seen the strongest New Zealand Sevens team. They have deliberately not featured their strongest 12 at any one tournament this year. For sure, the All Blacks Sevens have an ace up their sleeve.
But enough about them for now. In Monaco, Tonga will be a real threat to Samoa and so will Russia and Canada. Keep in mind that at the London Sevens two weekends ago, Canada defeated Samoa handsomely so they are heading there with plenty of confidence that they can do it again.
And the form of McGrath’s men at the London Sevens had left us with much to be confident about. Which means every game for Samoa should be treated as a final. That’s the attitude they have got to have. They have to be hungrier, they have to want it so bad they must play as if their lives depended on it.
Some people might ask ‘well what’s the point of winning Monaco if they have no chance of securing a medal at the Olympics?’ That’s irrelevant to be quite honest.
At least if we qualify, we are in with a real shout. Four years is a long time and looking at the slow and steady development in this team, Rio is tantalizing possibility to shock the world.
By winning the Paris Sevens last month, it shows that this team is peaking at the right moment. If they overcome this one last hurdle, they will be heading to Rio as the most dangerous underdog because they are underrated and not many people are giving them a chance. And that’s a good position to be in.
The worry for all of us is the absence of consistency as we have seen all season long. The results have been incredibly erratic and the performance in London where they went from winning the Cup in Paris to losing all their pool games typified what we’ve become so accustomed to.
Looking at the squad, with the addition of playmaker Phoenix Hunapo-Nofoa who was missing in Paris, it will be interesting to see whether McGrath will sacrifice someone else for him.
Samoa won the Paris Sevens comfortably without Nofoa. Some of their best victories this season including wins over New Zealand and Fiji happened without him also.
We know Nofoa is such a gifted player with freakish ability but there have been times where his concentration and show pony antics on the field have cost the team. These are factors McGrath will be considering before he names his final squad next week. We hope he makes the right decision.
For now, the nation has given the team their blessings. This Manu Samoa Sevens team is carrying the hopes of the nation.
Captain Toleafoa Falemiga Selesele has once again found himself being called upon to stand up for his country at an hour where they need him the most. It’s an unenviable task.
But it’s not impossible. And the rewards are far too great for anything but a championship performance.
So let us rally one last time behind our men in blue and wish them well. O outou mama na!