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'There are people coming together from all different parts of the world': Samoa coach Seilala Mapusua facing new challenge head-on

By Tom Vinicombe

Trending on RugbyPass

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With players featuring in competitions around the globe, the Pacific Island sides always face the challenging task of trying to bring together a sizeable group of men to play in one unified group.

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That will be the first hurdle of new Manu Samoa coach Seliala Mapusua as he tries to knock over Tonga and guarantee his team a place at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Mapusua named the first squad of his tenure on Friday but it’s been a long time coming. The former Highlanders and London Irish representative was appointed into the role almost eight months ago but Samoa weren’t able to play any matches last year due to the global pandemic.

Throughout that period, Mapusua admits he’s toyed with the idea of countless different selections, all culminating in the 32-man squad announced on Friday morning.

“It’s not very often you get to have a first-time experience at work eight months into the job so I’m really happy and it’s exciting times,” Mapusua told RugbyPass.

“I think I’ve probably [picked] close to twenty squads since I first got the role. You have a kind of idea of the make-up of the team and so many factors come into the decision making and it’s changed – but not dramatically, I think. There’s a lot of hope in there when selecting the first squad but I’m definitely confident in the boys we’ve selected and this is the best team that’s available to represent Samoa.”

The pandemic has played its part in some selections, with a number of Europe-based players unlikely to be available for Samoa’s opening two games of the mid-year calendar due to late-season finals and strict quarantine rules in New Zealand.

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As such, Mapusua has omitted the likes of Bristol’s Chris Vui and Clermont’s Tim Nanai-Williams altogether

There are still plenty of familiar faces in the squad, however, such as Ah See Tuala, Jack Lam and TJ Ioane – who all played prominent roles last time Samoa took the field during the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Of course, there are some exciting new additions to the team too – including a handful of players who still reside in Samoa.

“We’ve a young lock/loosie, Theodore McFarland, he’s making some really good strides,” Mapusua said. “And a couple of the sevens boys, Joe Perez and Johnny Vaili, I think they’re excitement machines so they’re definitely a couple to look out for.

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“And also some of the unknown boys that are probably a bit more familiar to New Zealand fans like [Hawke’s Bays’] Neria Fomai and Stacey Ili, when he comes over [from Australia]. There’ll be a few familiar names in there but there’ll be some new names that hopefully people will remember after this campaign.”

And it’s passing on the news of their selection to those young players, especially those based in the islands, that Mapusua identifies as one of the highlights of his short tenure as Manu Samoa coach so far.

“This is one of the best parts of the job, letting boys know they’ve made the team,” he said. “They were a bit emotional and rightly so. These kids growing up in Samoa, this is their dream – to represent the country.

“They’re really excited and I think once the excitement kind of died down, they realised they had a big job ahead so it’s just been trying to encourage them just to be themselves and express themselves.

“This is a great learning experience as well, being on tour with the team. It feels weird saying that in New Zealand but just being in camp and trying to soak in everything – rubbing shoulders with seasoned professionals like Michael Alaalatoa and Jack and just trying to learn as much of them as possible.”

All in all, players who are based out of eight different countries around the world are represented in the 32-man squad.

While the majority call New Zealand, Australia or Samoa home, there are also players who have been selected based on their performances in competitions being played in England, Scotland, France, USA and Japan.

That poses a unique problem, with players having to come together and forge ahead with a unified playing style.

Thankfully, the quick connections that players build off the field helps with the work that needs to be done on the pitch.

“It’s pretty unique, especially with the Pacific teams,” said Mapusua. “With Manu Samoa, people forget that there are people coming together from all different parts of the world and different environments and different teams.

“It’s awesome, it doesn’t take long for the boys to gel. They get on the bus and start singing and then that’s the team bonding done. They’re all connected, already, being Samoan. It’s awesome to see.

“At the end of the tour, when they part ways, you see the real brotherhood, they come in as strangers and leave as usos and that’s one of the things I enjoy seeing.”

Manu Samoa kick their campaign off with two matches against the Maori All Blacks at Sky Stadium in Wellington and Mount Smart in Auckland before taking on Tonga at Mount Smart and in Hamilton.

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'There are people coming together from all different parts of the world': Samoa coach Seilala Mapusua facing new challenge head-on

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