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Mapusua faces uncertain future as Samoa start new coach search

By Jon Newcombe
Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua at the recent Rugby World Cup (Photo by David Ramos/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Lakapi Samoa have advertised for a new Manu Samoa head coach, leaving the future of Vaovasamanaia Seilala Mapusua uncertain. The decision is believed to be based on results at Rugby World Cup 2023 and has been met with some surprise.

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Manu Samoa finished second-from-bottom in the Pool D standings in France with a 43-10 win over Chile their only victory of the campaign.

With the presence of former All Blacks such as Lima Sopoaga and Steven Luatua in their squad, the union felt Manu Samoa had underperformed.

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However, their biggest margin of defeat against teams higher than them in the World Rugby men’s rankings was just nine points. The games against Argentina (10-19), Japan (22-28) and England (17-18) could have easily fallen the other way.

Mapusua, who won 41 caps as a player for Manu Samoa, is undecided at the moment about whether to apply for his own job, which was advertised on Facebook on Monday.

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When contacted by RugbyPass, Seilala pointed out he was “contracted until the end of 2024 and working still on the programme for this year”.

Mapusua was appointed as Manu Samoa’s head coach in August 2020 and had to wait 10 months before taking charge of his first game because of the pandemic.

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The former London Irish centre, who is 44 next week, won eight of his first 11 Tests in charge leading up to the World Cup and felt progress was being made.

However, Mapusua will be the first to acknowledge that Test rugby is a results-driven business and the union are eager to usher in change before the new-look World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup gets underway in August.

In terms of candidates to replace him, Samoan legend Pat Lam would be a real fans’ favourite. But the former back row forward is on a lucrative, long-term contract at Bristol Bears that runs until the end of the 2027/28 season.

Manu Samoa’s schedule for 2024 has not yet been announced but what is known is that they will face Fiji and Tonga in Pool A at the Pacific Nations Cup. Japan, USA and Canada, meanwhile, will play against each other on a round-robin basis in Pool B.

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All six teams will be involved in a final series in Japan this summer and in the USA in 2025 where the annual champions will be confirmed.

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Poorfour 10 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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