Truth is always a bitter pill to swallow

By The Editorial Board 07 April 2024, 10:00AM

Samoan international and former All Blacks Lima Sopoaga spoke about the bitter taste left after the appointment of a new coach for Manu Samoa coach Mase Mahonri Shwalger and how easily Vaovasamanaia Seilala Mapusua was replaced.

He talks about a backlash from international players and most of them not wanting to represent Samoa. The first question is why is a player who opted to play for another country so concerned about the country he chose to play for after his heyday was over?

All due respect to Lima Sopoaga, he was a great player and did marvellous things when he was in his prime. It was in his prime when he chose to play for the All Blacks and not for Manu Samoa. Similarly, if Julian Savea or Ardie Savea chose to play for Samoa now, what message does that send?

Before the Rugby World Cup 2023, Samoa was one of the best teams on paper. There was depth, there was experience and there was flair. Sadly, it was all on paper. For the many Samoans who wanted to see that translate into the real game, it sadly never eventuated.

Vaovasamanaia is one of the best rugby players this country has seen. Every time he had the ball, he would create something, he would break tackles, step into space and on defence he was feared as he would deliver those bone-crushing tackles.

As a coach, he picked a score of players mostly not born in Samoa and he thought he could get them to have the pride to play for the nation they had never grown up in. He even tried taking them to Savaii and make them realise how life was in Samoa.

But this did not work because there was no national pride. Now compare that to the players who were actually born in Samoa and how they performed. Theo McFarland for example. He was sensational unlike the former All Blacks that were picked.

McFarland started playing rugby while at school at Pesega Church College, and also represented Moamoa Rugby Club in Samoa in 2016. He is now playing for Saracens and the lock is making an impression. Miracle Faiilagi is another such player.

When Melani Matavao was brought into the last Rugby World Cup match against England, he showed why he should have been playing from the start. So, it is not that hard to see why Vaovasamanaia was replaced.

Let us talk about development. This is not entirely in the hands of Vaovasamanaia but he could have made a push for it. What are the pathways for school rugby players to transition into national teams and the Moana Pasifika?

We have seen how Fiji has set up the Fiji Drua and Fijiana Drua. The teams have caused major upsets beating the likes of Crusaders. The local provincial players are putting their hands up and showing what they are made of in local competitions. If there was a similar pathway in Samoa, we would have world class players coming in from the village rugby levels and schools rugby.

Yes, we have Samoan children born in New Zealand and Australia who play at professional level but if they were given a chance to play for the nation they were born in, they would choose that option rather than playing for the motherland of their parents. The last Rugby World Cup showed us that the only time the greats want to come back is the time they want to have their last hurrah.

There are lessons to be learnt from what Vaovasamanaia did not do and did do and we hope that Mase is aware of that. More than Mase, we hope that Lakapi Samoa is aware that the failure to create a pathway is costing the nation its pride.

Samoa is a feared name in rugby. Samoan players the world over have shown that we have class. It is time to get the equation right. Be it Vaovasamanaia or Mase, we need to develop our players and not rely on players developed by others.

We need players who are ready to bleed blue. Hopefully, the new coach can deliver. As for the way things went down for Vaovasamanaia, he was aware of the consequences given the performance of the Manu Samoa.

By The Editorial Board 07 April 2024, 10:00AM
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