14 Aug 2020

Homeward Bound: Seilala Mapusua plots Manu Samoa revival

8:55 am on 14 August 2020

The new Manu Samoa rugby coach Seilala Mapusua has a plan to revive the perennial underachievers, although he's not quite sure when he'll be allowed back into the country.

The Moto'otua-born midfielder played 26 tests in the blue jersey and was part of the team that famously upset Australia in 2011.

Manu Samoa celebrate beating Australia in 2011.

Manu Samoa celebrate beating Australia in 2011. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

But recent seasons have been a hard slog for Samoa, with the Manu slipping to 15th in the world rankings, below Pacific neighbours Fiji and Tonga, and winning just seven of 28 test matches over the past four years.

Mapusua is light on head coaching experience - having led the Otago Under 19s over the past two years - but felt now was the right time to put himself forward.

"Seeing the results not go out way it's been very really tough and sometimes frustrating and I suppose that was part of the reason why I thought if I want to influence this team that means a lot to me then this was the best way to do it."

Former Highlanders and Samoa international Seilala Mapusua has been named head coach of Manu Samoa.

Seilala Mapusua is the new Manu Samoa head coach. Photo: Photosport

The former Highlanders and London Irish midfielder, 40, only hung up his boots in 2016 after a stint in Japan and will be no stranger to the playing group.

He's played alongside a handful of current internationals and worked closely with the team in his role as a board member for Pacific Rugby Players.

"Now being on the other side I think I've got a really good understanding of what our Pacific players go through and hopefully that will help me in my current role."

He's the fourth Manu Samoa head coach to be appointed since Stephen Betham's departure after the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Namulauulu Alama Ieremia quit in 2017 after failing to secure automatic World Cup qualification. His successor, Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua, was sacked 12 months later and took the Samoa Rugby Union to court while Steve Jackson's brief tenure ended with a group stage exit in Japan last year.

Manu Samoa coach Steve Jackson.

Steve Jackson is now coaching in Japan. Photo: Clay Cross / PHOTOSPORT

Mapusua signed an initial two year contract but already had the 2023 World Cup in France in his sights.

"My main goal is to really grow and develop Manu Samoa rugby and that starts from the grassroots in Samoa," he said.

"I want to build and create and environment where players can be the best versions of themselves and I want to be part of attracting our best players is one of my goals and I know I can only do that from within."

Melani Matavao playing for Manu Samoa at  the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Manu Samoa managed one win from four games at the 2019 World Cup. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

He acknowledged that resources and putting the strongest team on the field could be a challenge in the Pacific but said Covid-19 presented an opportunity for a fresh start.

"I'm not big on boxes that players are meant to fit into and environment is key for me," he said.

"In my experience a player that is happy and content and believes in what you're trying to achieve will outperform any talented player that thinks otherwise and I really enjoyed watching Rassie Erasmus last year with what he did with the Springboks."

With the New Zealand and Samoa borders shut in response to the global pandemic, Mapusua admitted the prospect of international matches was still unclear, with the 2020 Pacific Nations Cup among a host of test matches already postponed because of the virus.

The Dunedin-based coach hoped to get back to Samoa as soon as possible to begin his new role but wasn't sure when that would be.

"After speaking to the union there were plans and there was briefing at 9:15pm [on Tuesday night by the New Zealand government] that kind of threw that out the window," he said.

"I'm hoping to get my feet on the ground in the coming weeks and basically it is a day-by-day thing at the moment and seeing if we're able to play some international rugby this year."