Any improvement is great progress

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 May 2017, 12:00AM

It has taken a while but at the tail end of the World Rugby Sevens Series, we are at last seeing the Manu Samoa Sevens play like the team we know they can. 

This is not to say they have arrived yet. 

They are far from the finished product but at least we are beginning to see all the patience, investment and hard work being put in behind closed doors paying off.

All that’s needed now is a consistent performance in London this weekend to continue to keep us hopeful. 

But that would be very difficult given the fact the team is likely to be without two key players in the form of Faalemiga Selesele and Tila Mealoi who sustained serious injuries in Paris during the weekend. The team could also lose a third player in the form of Joe Perez (see story).

But that’s the bad news. 

The good news (and we’ll rejoice at any sort of good news at this stage) is we made the Cup playoffs for the first time last weekend.

After an impressive showing in pool play where the team knocked over Fiji and Australia, the men in blue cracked their first Cup play offs this season. 

And against South Africa in the Cup quarterfinals, they were unfortunate. 

Mind you with the injury run they had sustained, any team would have found it tough against South Africa who progressed and eventually won the tournament.

But coach Sir Gordon Tietjens is upbeat.

“We started well with a certainly good win over Fiji and over Australia as well and of course I thought our quarter final today against South Africa was a real gutsy performance,” he said.

“We’ve been smashed with a lot of injuries - I finished with one fit player outside my 13 - so one reserve in our last game in the Plate final against the USA, so just a real gutsy weekend really and I was really proud of the way that they played.”

He added: “Losing Falemiga Selesele - my captain - with a concussion knock was a big blow to our team and of course during that game (against South Africa) I lost two key players in Tila Mealoi and Joe Perez with, again, both head knocks: one going to hospital and one being ruled out with concussion as well.

“It was massive for us and then losing another one with a concussion head knock in the game against the USA in the final of the Plate so a horrendous tournament for injuries but just a great gutsy performance from the players who had to stand up and be counted when it mattered.

“Obviously for us finishing sixth was a massive improvement from where we’ve been in the past.”

We couldn’t agree more. 

The Paris performance was indeed a breath of fresh air. 

Keep in mind that it has been a pretty long time between drinks when it comes to success in the abbreviated code of rugby. 

And although the expectations for that to happen are rather low, there are times when this team shows signs that they can beat any team in the world. 

And they have.

Look at what happened last weekend. 

As we’ve said before, we have to be realistic and appreciate the small steps and minor improvements. The performance in Paris was a massive improvement. 

The story of the national sevens team is summed up like this. We go from spicy hot to being freezing cold and then pathetic in some instances. Like a yo-yo, the team’s form has been lacking some real consistency. 

And that will be the challenge for coach Tietjens this weekend.

All they have to do now is sort out the issue of constituency and ensure their heads are in the right place all the time. 

Sometimes you really have to wonder what they are thinking about with some of silly stuff they do on the field. 

Think of the quarterfinal against South Africa and how many times they threw away the ball during their line outs? And who attacks from their in goal at the stroke of half time? Crazy stuff!

Last weekend, we saw some brilliant glimpses on attack and the tackling was great to watch. What was even more impressive was the commitment they showed at the breakdown.

What’s great about this performance is that it at least gives us a sense of hope. 

This is not to say that they are there yet. No we are not.

But it’s a start and it’s something they can build on. We know that it is a very young team and they lack the experience of some of our more successful teams in the past. 

But that’s okay. 

What’s important is that they have taken a gigantic step forward, assuring the world and themselves perhaps that not all is lost. 

And given our form of late, we will rejoice at any improvement until we see what this team is fully capable of. 

Have a fabulous week Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 May 2017, 12:00AM

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