Manu sevens revel in memories ten years on
Ten years after claiming the Hong Kong Sevens trophy, members of the Manu Samoa 2010 squad can reminisce about overcoming England to claim the coveted silverware and stun the world.
But not before turning their heads in frustration at the misfortunes of the current Manu Samoa Sevens squad, who have struggled to make an impact at the top level.
Two members of the victorious 2010 team, Pale Toelupe and Reupena Levasa, told the Samoa Observer that the squad at that time believed in team-work and in themselves, which ultimately got them to the pinnacle of Sevens rugby.
Toelupe said his goal was to make the Manu Samoa 15s and he left Samoa for Brisbane, Australia on a rugby scholarship at the end of 1998. Despite being away, he returned to play for his village team Malie.
“One year we fell short of winning the finals in our local provincial sevens competition. I was selected in Soifua John Shuster's sevens training squad at the time, but never made the touring squad. Other than that, I was very much making the most of the opportunities with the 15 a side version of the game," he said. "Winning the Hong Kong Sevens leg. That was massive. The atmosphere, the crowd. More importantly the extra points earned there which helped our campaign.”
As for Levasa, on that day that they won in Hong Kong, the kick by England in the final half of the grand final lasted for eternity as they knew the implications of a conversion.
"Looking back at our win in Hong Kong that win was something else, when the England player was going for his last conversion during the final half of the game we knew we were screwed because that guy never misses a kick,” he said in an interview.
“But it gave us hope when he missed it. And then the call from our Captain Lolo Lui to kick the penalty we were praying and hoping that it would go through the two poles and yes it did. We just couldn't believe it. The bond that we have on and off the field is unexplainable.”
Fast forward to their predecessors today – who have donned the famous red, white and blue jersey – the two former Manu Samoa players say there is a big difference between their time and today.
Toelupe said the current crop of players look fit and strong but aren’t delivering the results when out on the field during tournaments.
"Rugby builds men, builds character. You are taught respect, team work, decision making, communication skills, self discipline. You build lifelong relationships with individuals from all walks of life. It's been frustrating to watch and I haven't followed for a long time,” he said. “The silly mistakes, the missed tackles and just knowing the team is much much better than what you're witnessing is just frustrating. The current team looks fit and strong, but it's a totally different breed. You see the hairstyles, you see the sign celebrations when scoring a try, you see the social media posts.”
The structure of the play and the predictability of Manu Samoa’s game plan also frustrates Toelupe, as he says during their time it was different and they played free-flowing rugby.
"I also see the change in play. Our style looks more structured and very predictable. There's a free kick for example and we take our time to set up. By then the opposition would've already read what we're about to do,” he added.
“We were never like that. We win yards by surprising the opposition, by the quick plays, by playing free flowing rugby. I'm not sure why the change but it's certainly not working. I'm also not sure of all the complications when at times it looks like it's confusing the team more than the opposition.”
Levasa and other team members also share the same sentiments as Toelupe, they think the team is fit but they are just confused on what exactly is the issue.
They had a team rule back in the day called, "Sa le fai mea ita" which means they aren't allowed to do anything with hatred, they believe is what kept them together and made their team successful.
"That rule is what kept us as one. Take Simaika and Alatasi for instance, Simaika once broke an eagle that was in the front of Alatasi's car but even though Alatasi was mad he wasn't allowed to show it. So the other day we went to school athletics, and Alatasi came across Simaika's car, the next thing he did was splashed Koko rice (Samoan food) onto Simaika's car," Levasa recalled while laughing. "During our training, we always keep the spirit. And not every game plan from our coach works so our coach Betham always tells us that if they see anything that they want to change and it's for the betterment of the team, do it and we always play by that.”
Regardless of the misfortunes of the current squad, Toelupe and Levasa said they still back Manu Samoa and are looking forward to the next tournament to cheer and root for them.
While Lolo Lui is now finishing his Level 2 coach training, Levasa is currently the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture [M.E.S.C.] Sports Principal Officer. Toelupe is in the referee association while Mikaele Pesamino, Uale Mai, Timoteo Iosua, Jerry Meafou, Alatasi Tupou, Alafoti Faaosiliva and Ofisa Treviranus all live overseas. Afa Aiono and Fautua Otto are still in Samoa playing for local teams while Paul Chan Tung is the head coach for the Marist Angels.