27 Jun 2020

Former Samoa rugby internationals back local to lead the Manu

1:00 pm on 27 June 2020

Former Manu Samoa internationals have thrown their support behind the idea of a local coach leading the team into the next World Cup.

Samoan Siva Tau before Russia v Samoa, Rugby World Cup 2019 at Kumagaya Stadium, Saitama, Japan.

Photo: Photosport

Applications to succeed Steve Jackson close today, although the job description states the successful candidate must have a minimum of five years coaching experience at Super Rugby or an equivalent level.

The former Blues assistant coach Jackson managed only three wins from 11 matches during his 15 months stint in charge and the New Zealander has since been appointed head coach of Japan's Shimizu Blue Sharks.

Chairman of Moata'a Rugby and former Manu Samoa sevens player, Falepauga Filipo Saena said it was time to have a coach deep-rooted in the Samoan culture.

Chairman of Moata'a Rugby and former Manu Samoa sevens player, Falepauga Filipo Saena.

Chairman of Moata'a Rugby and former Manu Samoa sevens player, Falepauga Filipo Saena. Photo: Supplied

"We have seen a lot of overseas coaches coming in and take over the team and the main problem with those coaches is they don't really understand the culture here," he said.

Falepauga said a pool of talent was already accessible on the island and selecting an international coach meant locals were being overlooked and were underestimated.

"A lot of these coaches when they come in they bring in all their staff from overseas as well and the local coaches are left behind and so there is no pathway for the local coaches."

Despite the job description signalling a preference for an off-shore appointment, former Manu Samoa halfback Tino Junior Poluleuligaga said the Samoa Rugby Union should consider applications from coaches with less experience.

The Manu Samoa halfback Akusitino Junior Poluleuligaga.

Tino Junior Poluleuligaga in action for Manu Samoa. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"I don't believe that they necessarily need to have that five years experience, it could just be in there to tick the box for World Rugby, but that doesn't mean they're going to be the right person for that head coach role," he said.

"We've had this in the past where they could have all the experience and meet the criteria and have good results, but then come into a Manu Samoa environment and not perform and get results and so I think it's not really important whether they're an international or a local coach."

Now the Director of Rugby at Auckland's Papatoetoe Rugby Football Club, the 39 year old said understanding the culture and speaking the language has in some cases outweighed any coaching experience required.

"When you think about Dicky [Fuimaono Titimaea] Tafua, a local head coach, he did really well during his time around the 2011 World Cup and and was well respected," he said.

Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua was first appointed Manu Samoa coach in 2009.

Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua was first appointed Manu Samoa coach in 2009. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"He didn't have all the accolades as some of the other previous coaches and achievements on his CV, but he was the right person, I believe, during his time in regards to living on the island, knowing the culture, being able to speak the language, understanding relationships and being well connected around the people."

Former Samoan captain, Semo Sititi, said he'd love to see a local coach appointed however based on the application requirements, he doesn't believe there's a local candidate qualified enough for the role.

"I don't think there is anyone in Samoa that is qualified based on what is on that application, because it says five years of Super Rugby [coaching] experience or any high level of coaching and I don't think there is anyone in Samoa."

Sititi, who coached the Kagifa Samoa team, now known as Manuma Samoa, in last years' Global Rapid Rugby competition believed appointing a Samoan assistant could be the first step to securing a local national coach.

"If we have someone else [an international coach] and he has some good local assistants that can help him out, then they can feed that head coach [on] what he's doing well, what he needs to do, what he needs to understand about the culture [and] people are supposed to be there to help him out."

The 63 test veteran, who competed at three Rugby World Cups, can see the merits of having both local and overseas coaches.

"The benefit of someone who has been there and done that at a Super Rugby level is they can bring new ideas and we need that," he said.

"They can help out the local coaches with their skills and everything..I think we need someone with that experience to lead on an international scale.

"If we do have a local coach then the Union needs to invest in him. They need to get the best out of him, send him overseas, send him to any franchise here in New Zealand to get that experience."

Kagifa Samoa head coach Semo Sititi.

Kagifa Samoa head coach Semo Sititi. Photo: Global Rapid Rugby

Sititi added that financial support from World Rugby could also influence the Samoa Rugby Union's final appointment.

"My understanding is having someone who has coached the Super Rugby [means] the World Rugby will step in and help out with the financial side of it, but if they have a local coach who hasn't got any experience in the Super Rugby or Mitre 10 level, then the Samoa Union has to look for the financial side to pay that cut."

Support for Mahonri Schwalger: 'One of those players you'd die for on the field.'

According to the Samoa Observer, one of the coaching staff of Samoa's most recent professional rugby teams, Manuma Samoa and former Manu Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger is interested in the position.

Although Schwalger hasn't confirmed whether or not he's applied for the role, Falepauga said he had confidence in Schwalger to lead the team.

Mahonri Schwalger captained Samoa to victory over the Wallabies.

Mahonri Schwalger captained Samoa to victory over the Wallabies. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"Mahonri is a former captain of Manu Samoa, he's got a lot of knowledge and he's been a leader and he possesses a lot of great qualities to become a coach," he said.

"It's awesome to see him putting his hand up because at the moment we need those type of leaders in our set up and hopefully he'll do well [if he applied for the role]."

Poluleuligaga believes his former international team-mate would be more than capable of doing the job, despite the SRU requirements.

Mahonri Schwalger runs a rugby academy in Samoa.

Mahonri Schwalger runs a rugby academy in Samoa. Photo: Rugby Academy Samoa

"He's one that stands out for me. I know he's been doing some coaching with his academy, he's been on a lot of courses and he's been part of that Manuma Global Rapid Rugby campiagn as well. He may not have some of the experience as some of these other applicants, but he has the respect of the people and former players," he said.

"He was one of my skippers during my time and he was one of those players you'd die for on the field. He's got a lot of experience in being part of different campaigns and winning Super Rugby titles as well."

"I think it's really important to remember that at this point of time, we've got four years before the next World Cup and if we want to recruit and make it appealing to all these players that are on the fringe of playing for the All Blacks, we need to put some respect back into the blue jersey and Mahonri is someone that gains that respect.

"He knows the environment and what's required, and I think more players would be wanting to play for Samoa under his leadership."

Mahonri Schwalger last played for Samoa at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Mahonri Schwalger last played for Samoa at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo: AFP

The SRU declined to comment on how many people had applied to coach Manu Samoa until after the closing date.