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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