5 May 2020

Sport: 50 days and counting - Manuma Samoa close to going home

6:35 am on 5 May 2020

A Samoan professional rugby team is close to returning home after spending almost two months in New Zealand because of Covid-19.

The Manuma Samoa spent 14 days in self-isolation after arriving in Auckland on 16 March, following their Rapid Rugby season opener in Perth.

Passengers arrrive at Auckland Airport Monday 16 March

The Manuma Samoa squad went into self isolation after arriving at Auckland Airport on Monday 16 March. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

However, once New Zealand's lockdown was implemented and flights restricted the team was required to remain in their hostel accommodation, which they have now called home for more than seven weeks.

One of the coaching staff, former Manu Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger, said the team has coped as best they can.

"The first week we sort of got our team training and we sort of can do whatever we can at the moment."

"We basically have a field in front of where we're staying so guys are going out and doing some team activities, just trying to get guys occupied."

"It was a opportunity as well for most of the boys to go through their games and learn how to analyse and that sort of stuff for their own development in rugby," Schwalger said.

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke said it's been a long journey for the players who have now spent 50 days holed up together in South Auckland.

"We knew we had a situation on our hands here where we had to make sure we put the players' welfare right to the forefront."

"Everybody understood that and everybody recognised that we need to make sure everyone's looked after so Vincent and SRU have been good on that front and making sure that we have what we need and just exploring options at any corner that we could look."

"In the first couple of weeks post the 14 day isolation I think we twice, maybe three times, had the team booked on some flights that eventually got cancelled and sort of went downhill from there, found ourselves in this situation, so not ideal at all for anybody and we just tried to make the best we can out of it."

"The most important thing is ensuring that the families know the players are being looked after and can be communicated with and trying to stay engaged and keep their spirits high really."

Manumā Samoa trained in Auckland for two weeks before flying to Perth.

Manumā Samoa trained in Auckland for two weeks before flying to Perth. Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson

Six New Zealand-based players were able to return to their families last week when the country dropped to Covid-19 alert level three.

Mahonri Schwalger said the remaining 17 players and six management staff are now waiting patiently until they can be reunited with families they haven't seen in the flesh for almost two months.

"We've just been told that we are leaving on the 19th - we've got a chance to get on that flight."

"Apparently there's a lot of people that want to go back home, they're stranded here, so we've got to make sure that we be patient and we've got to make sure that we get our name up for that flight on the 19th of this month."

Mahonri Schwalger captained Samoa to victory over the Wallabies.

Mo Schwalger played 42 tests for Samoa and the Pacific Islanders. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Samoa Rugby Union and Global Rapid Rugby have been covering the teams accommodation and meal costs whilst they remain in New Zealand, while SRU CEO Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea'i said his organisation is also providing players and staff with a weekly living allowance.

Aayden Clarke said he takes his hat off to the players who have all had to sacrifice a lot while being away from their families during such an unsettling time around the world.

"They're comfortable, spending a lot of time together, obviously - probably getting sick of each other by now - but doing what they can."

"They've been heading off for testing and a few other things as much as they can and just staying engaged and the SRU has been looking after them in terms of an allowance as well," he said.

"The big issue has been the group who live in Apia and who live across Samoa being able to return home, which hasn't been an option, and we've explored everywhere."

"Vincent at SRU has been trying to find options through medical supply planes, through freight - everything they can possibly look into - but to date we hadn't found an option, except we're looking at hopefully the 19th of May is the first one that's looking promising anyway at this stage but we still just don't know if we can confirm that."

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke.

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Vinnie Wylie

Mahonri Schwalger said the players, who all returned negative tests for Covid-19 during isolation, had been excited to play in their opening game against the South China Tigers, where they led by one point at half-time before fading to a 52-27 defeat.

"Obviously the next day the tournament sort of got cancelled straight away after that. We were pretty happy on the way home but obviously we're sort of stuck here through the [lockdown] in New Zealand and now the shut-down at the moment."

"At the moment we're coping to where we're at and we're pretty happy. The boys are in good spirit and we're

looking forward for a flight to go back home," he said.

And with Samoa one of the few countries around the world to have no confirmed cases of Covid-19, Schwalger said there's nowhere else he'd rather be.

"Samoa is probably the safest place to be at the moment - they haven't had any cases of any coronavirus."

"I think the guys will get back and we've got to make sure we get these guys still doing their training and we'll probably focus on our club rugby as well, so just fingers crossed in the next couple of weeks things will open up and the guys can do what they love doing, to get back into the game."

Manumā Samoa squad to debut in the 2020 Global Rapid Rugby season.

The Manuma Samoa rugby team have been in Auckland for close to two months. Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson