Manu Samoa and doing justice to the jersey
Manu Samoa undoubtedly saved their best performance of the Rugby World Cup for their last game and many Samoans feel that if they played all their matches that way, then Samoa’s name would have been among those who have made the quarterfinals.
Lima Sopoaga who was the Mastercard Man of the Match against England believes justice was not done to the jersey as he summed up Manu Samoa’s RWC campaign.
"It has been a disappointing couple of weeks, we felt we just didn’t give the jersey the justice it deserved,” he said after the game. “Tonight I’m proud, we didn’t come away with the chocolates.
"But we left it all out there and that’s all that anyone can ask. I’m incredibly proud of the boys, just a little bit disappointed and just gutted for Samoa and all our fans and supporters."
This Rugby World Cup was a tough lesson for Manu Samoa. All the big names were there but not enough was displayed in the field to convince supporters and go past Argentina and Japan. For head coach Vaovasamanaia Seilala Mapusua, if he continues in his role, the plan for the next World Cup should start now.
The first thing he needs to realise is that the younger players such as Theo McFarland, Miracle Tuilagi and Samuel Slade will be the ones to lead the team forward in the next four years. He and Lakapi Samoa should have a better pathway of sending local players into the Moana Pasifika squad.
Having young Samoans who are born in Samoa get into Super Rugby increases the chances of having a better performing national team. He has to keep in mind that many of the players in the squad now would be closer to 35 years if the coach is going to maintain the same team.
In the next four years, there will be more players with Samoan links who will put up their hands to play for Samoa, some because they would want to have their last hurrah at the Rugby World Cup before they hang their boots. Julian Savea has just signed for Moana Pasifika, he might consider playing for Samoa. If he were to be selected, would he do justice to the jersey.
The five Tuilagi brothers who have donned the blue jersey made Samoa their first choice. They could have easily represented any country they wanted but they showed what it means to bleed blue. To serve the jersey, this is the level of patriotism that is needed. These are the type of players needed and only then Samoa can step out of their pool without finishing fourth.
This is why selecting local players and developing them is the right way to do it. Even when these players go abroad for club contracts, their heart is to play for the nation of their birth, for their villages and for their families.
Vaovasamanaia did raise an important point when he said the Pacific teams need more tests and more games with Tier One nations.
"Well, we wouldn’t see games like we saw tonight. It was a great contest between two proud countries. You’re basically seeing an expanded Six Nations and Rugby Championship," he said.
"I’ve got a long list. The main thing is time together on the field, which means more games. It’s one of the biggest resources we don’t have. We have players across the globe, it’s always going to be hard."
World Rugby and Lakapi Samoa should be working on this and seriously providing at least four tests outside of the regular Pacific Nations Cup and these tests should be with teams who are in the top 10. That would be the right way to go if the Pacific nations aim to achieve glory at the RWC.
Manu Samoa’s campaign at the Rugby World Cup was not what the coaching panel had promised. From the start they have said that we have a plan and it will work but it did not. Maybe it is time to admit the disappointing outing and go back to the drawing board and start working with the younger players who in the next four years will make the nation proud.
Samoans love their rugby and they will get behind the Manu Samoa, as they did this time, all we need is players who can truly serve the jersey.
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