Rugby Chief wants stronger domestic competition, more locals in Manu Samoa

The Samoa Rugby Union will look to improve the game domestically as a means to improving the Manu Samoa after a “disappointing result” at the Rugby World Cup.

Chief executive officer Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i said it was a challenging four years leading up to the tournament, but he feels the Samoa Rugby Union (S.R.U.) has come a long way.

“We made quite a lot of internal changes within the Union, we’ve had changes of coaches, he said.

“But we always felt that considering what had happened, we prepared well.”

Now the Union will try to do even better over the next four years, and thus put the Manu in the best position to meet expectations.

“For us to be competitive at a Rugby World Cup we really need to look internally, which we have, in terms of our domestic competition,” Faleomavaega said.

“I personally would like to see more locals in the Manu Samoa, but that has to come with a stronger domestic competition; they have to earn it.”

The CEO said he knows that’s what the public want as well.

“Not only the players, we also need to push through our local coaches over the next four years,” he said.

Faleomavaega said he would like to see local coaches at the helm of the top teams with expert advisors from overseas providing assistance, as the empowering of those locals would hopefully have trickle-down benefits for Samoan grassroots rugby.

He said S.R.U. is also trying to address local player drain:

“We develop them, then they’re approached to go away.

“They’re coming for them younger, taking our kids out of schools, from clubs, from the provincial sides.”

Faleomavaega said the Union are looking at how they can set policies around compensation to release players in those cases.

“So we can develop them, and help them stay in Samoa to strengthen our competition,” he said.

“Last year we had about six players just disappear out of here, either to play for clubs in New Zealand or go to Europe.

“We’ve been developing them, building up a competition, trying to build some momentum with these players, then they’re off, and we’re back to square one again.”

Faleomavaega said with better development pathways in place, they can try and hold those players a little longer:

“And build trust that the system we’re putting in place is better than the odd cash that they get when they go away to play for clubs.

“To look at the bigger picture of the riches in Europe available when they perform playing for Manu Samoa.”

To that end, S.R.U. recently revived its Academy, and Faleomavaega said there are 40 players in there across U18 and U23 levels.

“Hopefully come the World Cup they’ll be in their mid-20s [ready to contribute],” he said.

The 2019 Manu World Cup squad was the third-oldest at the tournament.

“Some of them are in their 30s, they’re definitely not going to be there next time round,” Faleomavaega said.

“We’re also working very hard with Oceania Rugby, New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia to try and get these age-grade teams into regular competition.”

He said there have been discussions with the Government of Australia about help with funding. Their PacificAus Sports program is offering $94 million tala from 2019 to 2023 for partnerships between Australia and the Pacific in high-performance sport.

“We’d like to see them help in the development area, Under 18s, 19s, 20s, 23s,” Faleomavaega said.

It would be welcome financial help for the Union, who have essentially maximised their commercial returns at a local level through sponsorship from Bluesky and SIFA, and need on-field results to establish such deals with overseas companies.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us…, but these things you just have to persevere and keep plugging away, and do our bit, Faleomavaega said.

He said for the Manu to succeed, 2020 and beyond will be about exposing new young talent, and having consistency in a coaching staff through the next World Cup in 2023.

“We can work our way back up again.”

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