Sakaria Taulafo's Manu Samoa disappointment
Veteran Manu Samoa prop, Sakaria Taulafo, came home because he thought it would help him make the Manu Samoa squad for the Pacific Nations Cup, and subsequently the Rugby World Cup.
He played for Samoa A, turned down a Global Rapid Rugby contract with Kagifa Samoa, and played Super 9 for the A’ana Chiefs, just as he was asked to.
Then last week following the Super 9 semifinals, he received an email from Manu Samoa coach, Vaeluaga Steve Jackson and his assistant coach Alistair Rogers saying he wasn’t the person they were looking for.
Taulafo said he felt like he’d been shot in the heart.
“I wish he made me sit down and talk," Taulafo said.
“Then we could discuss, and disagree or agree or whatever, as long as both sides understand what’s going on, instead of just saying it in an email.”
The 36-year-old prop said he had done everything they asked of him.
Having played under Vaeluaga at New Zealand provincial side Tasman in 2008, Taulafo reached out to him during his first tour with the Manu last year.
“I went and watched a game in Spain on the November tour,” Taulafo said.
He said they had a conversation, and he asked Vaeluaga whether he had a plan for which front rowers he would take to the World Cup.
“He said no because he just came into the Manu at the time, and apparently he got given the list and took those guys [on the November tour].”
Taulafo said he wanted the chance to prove himself, having recently come back from a 14 month injury layoff. So when the email came from Vaeluaga inviting him to join Samoa A, he said yes and played for them at the World Rugby Pacific Challenge in March in Fiji.
“I came, even though it was expensive, I had to spend my own money to do everything,” he said.
Taulafo said it was a good opportunity to work with the young local players in the Samoa A team, something he wanted to do to give back to the sport.
Vaeluaga linked up with them in Fiji to lend a hand and work with the local talent as well.
But Taulafo said they didn’t get a chance to talk, so on his return to France after the Pacific Challenge he emailed the coach again.
“He said look, you’re on the list of the potential team to take to the Pacific Nations Cup and the World Cup, but you’ve gotta keep working.”
Vaeluaga said the A’ana Chiefs wanted to get Taulafo on board for the rest of their Super 9 campaign, so he made the trip to Samoa again in May.
On the way over, he received an email from Semo Sititi, coach of Global Rapid Rugby side Kagifa Samoa, inviting him to play for them.
The Samoa A players had previously been told by team management they would be part of that Kagifa team when they got back from Fiji, and to be ready to join the Counties Manukau-based side.
Kagifa Samoa had booked an airfare and arranged for Taulafo to join them ahead of their game against the Fijian Latui on the 18th of May, but Taulafo did not get on that flight.
“The week I got [to Samoa], I got told that no, the Union won’t let you go,” Taulafo said.
He said Vaeluaga told him to stay in Samoa, that Super 9 would be good for him and there was a lot going on with Global Rapid Rugby so he couldn’t go.
“I really wanted to be a part of that team because it’s a good level…, it would be good for me,” Taulafo said.
He said being on the Manu Samoa potential team list gave him the hope he would make the national team again, so he did everything Vaeluaga asked.
“Something that makes me very disappointed about it, is you stopped me from going to the Kagifa Samoa, because that was exposure for me.”
Taulafo hasn’t heard from Vaeluaga since that email.
“How he said it without really explaining the reason…, I don’t think it was him that made the selection.
“After everything, especially when he said you’re in the potential team.”
He said based off of his prior relationship with Vaeluaga, and conversations with him since he became Manu Samoa coach, it didn’t make sense to be told he wasn’t what they were looking for only via email.
“It’s not really a professional way to do things I think, especially for a coach that I’ve known for a long time.
“Automatically to me, that says you didn’t make the decision.
“There’s all these locals around here, all these people that try to bring other people down, push their way in.”
Taulafo said it took him a couple of days to process the news.
“We talked about it, my family, my brother, everyone sees how frustrated and disappointed [I was], how quickly it changed me as a person.”
Ahead of the Super 9 final against Vaimauga Eels on Saturday, Taulafa said the game would be his last chance to either prove himself to Manu Samoa, or at the very least, unleash his frustration at the ordeal.
“I’ll use it as my last shot… put everything on the line and there’s always a chance.
“My aim is to help these guys as much as I can, this team that gave me the opportunity.”