Legendary All Black and Manu Samoa, Fesola’i Vaaiga Tuigamala, believes Auckland Blues will have the edge over the Queensland Reds this Friday.
It is the first Super Rugby match in Samoa under the lights and Fesola’i can hardly wait.
But these days, Fesola’i is not just a rugby man. In the following interview with Marj Moore, the President of the Samoa Amateur Boxing Association hands out a few bouquets and brickbats as he speaks frankly about life as a boxing administrator, the state of Samoan rugby, its place in the world and of course the inaugural Super Rugby Blues versus Reds game this Friday.
Rugby player to Boxing administrator
From an administrative point of view yes it’s challenging. You learn coming to a small country like Samoa that people are set in their own ways and there’s an establishment that has been there for a long while. I have to respect that and I have to see the benefits of that and at the same time I’ve had to have an open mind of where we can improve and where we can take the sport of boxing.
The challenge now is to get pathways to get boxing on its rightful path and more than anything, to meet the needs of these athletes to stay interested in the sport
Pathways are so important they’ve got to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They have to have something that motivates them to keep on training because as you well know, all sports here are struggling financially and we’re no different. It’s a huge challenge for every sports federation to keep their sport afloat and this is where I’m seeking new relationships with partners with companies in the private sector as well as the government sector and I’m trying to open our minds up a bit more and have an holistic approach to sport, not tunnel vision.
By that, I call it Team - P.R.I.D.E. which stands for Personal Responsibility In Delivering Excellence. It’s to get everyone to achieve more.
One is a collective thing in terms of the team and the other is your own desire to win. So I need to marry all this together with the old brigade and our new brigade that we have on board in terms of our Association.
A hand up, not a hand out
The other thing is, and I hope people don’t take it personally is what I call a poor man’s mentality. It’s in some of the ways we approach the sporting practices, I mean it as constructive criticism we all long to see improvements in our sports, in our athletes. We need to start thinking, ‘I don’t want a hand out, I want a hand up’. We need to be open to different views rather than keeping set minds and for me as an ex sportsman, although my field is different one thing I’m certain of is that every sportsman and woman has the same desires to look for improvement in their field of sport, to look for a standard of excellence and ways that they can improve themselves challenge themselves both physically and mentally. This is something that I’ve been trying to encourage our Board members and our older folks to have an open mind to change. Change is a good thing, it’s a great thing.
Importance of Blues versus Reds Super Rugby game in Samoa
It’s a very important game and has huge significance.
Firstly, the relationship between the Blues team and Samoa specifically. But not only that, with the whole Pacific region. The majority of our Pacific people have always supported the Blues. Growing up I was very fortunate to play for the Blues and a lot of our Samoans in the past have come through the Auckland system.
Secondly, we have always wanted these games here. This is a reality for our supporters here. To see up close, their heroes they see week in week out (on television) is huge. It’s just like how the All Blacks made a huge impact not only through the game itself but the social and economic side of things – the benefits. This is what stimulates the country and what was impossible in the past, is now possible. And so we’re thankful to SANZAR for bringing the game here but I still feel there is a lot more to be done. I know sometimes that people are scared to voice their opinions but it’s a need for Samoa and a need for Fiji and Tonga. Look at how Fiji embraced the Chiefs and Crusaders and the enormous ripples that can flow on from that?
You know for so many years we’ve contributed, all three islands. And the NZ All Blacks have reaped the benefits of that. I know; I was one of them. But there’s a long, long way to go. Although this is good
it really needs a deeper relationship and more meaningful matches. I take nothing away but in saying that, there’s always a downside.
The downside, is the pricing of tickets. When you look at it, it’s horrific and I’m not embarrassed to say that. You talk about wanting to promote the game that’s one thing and being here but giving the opportunity for our locals to be present I would say sad as it is, I know it’s out of the hands of the Samoa Rugby Union. If you look at in comparison at the Fiji game weeks ago and the Samoa game here there is a huge difference. I think that‘s an article for another time. I think part of this is that World Rugby and SANZAR have to answer for this We are not a first world country and we may never be a first world country but we are making massive strides to lift our own standards and quality of life but it does hurt those die-hard supporters.
I remember as a young kid, my hero back then in the early 8O’s was Bryan Williams and the thing to do was go to Eden Park and you could run on to the Park and go up to your hero and touch them. These guys were seen as demigods. So the game should be affordable for our people to go. That’s the message from our people; make it affordable. What’s the point of them all coming all this way and because we can’t afford it, we watch it on television? Do we want a half filled stadium? Because that’s the reality, let’s not kid ourselves. That’s why I say the World Rugby has responsibilities as does SANZAR.
The third thing is the importance of forming relationships. Ever since we were out of the Super 1o finished then it went to Super 12s and we never got a look in. Living here I have a real appreciation of our people being starved of that right to go to these games. I know often the case they say they have to see if it’s financially viable but this is not about financial viability. This is about giving back to the game what Pacific Islanders have contributed over the years. And I think that it’s not a criticism it’s about an open relationship That whole Pacific Island rugby team included so much promise but then for whatever reason, it stopped. But coming here, I have so much more appreciation of the reality. In the three years that I have been here I want to congratulate the Samoa Rugby Union – what they are trying to do. The players might disagree with me but hey, I’ve been there, I was one of them. I have so much more appreciation of what our Union is facing and it’s not just our Union. Fiji, Tonga is in a worse position than us and if the World Rugby do not do anything to help we are going to be further left behind.
Expectations of days gone
Those days are gone when we would turn up each four years as the big underdog and voila, turn it on. But the World Rugby hope that’s what Pacific Island teams will do at every World Cup – eg beating France in 2011. We are crying out give us the same level playing field. If the All Blacks could put on a game here on the way to Singapore or Australia, if they could put a game on here on their way to play against the Irish in Chicago on their way to Europe ... We’re right here at their doorstep, but we don’t want to be the doormat. We have so much to offer; so much more than the Sunwolves in Japan or the Argentinians. Our brand of rugby brings people to the edge of their seats. It brings the X factor, the wow factor and the Oh My Gosh factor when someone like Rupeni Caucau can pick up the ball with one hand and step past a whole team and score at the other end of the field in wet conditions. That’s what I’m talking about – it can’t be coached. I’m angry at myself because I know I could do so much more for our Pacific Islanders. We’re tired of being paid lip service. Now I’m sure I’ll be criticised but I’ll name some of the names who have gone on about it (the way we have been treated). Michael Jones, Jonah Lomu, the great BG Williams has gone on about it Tana Umaga – so many of our Pacific Island icons. Isn’t it time that the World Rugby did something about it? We’ve got a brand and a style of rugby that is second to none. The British go on about it - the players talk about the freakish way that Pacific Islanders can turn the game around with just pure brilliance. What more can we do except keep banging the drum?
Doing our best
I’m a realist and I’ve come to accept that we don’t have a huge population, our companies can only afford a certain amount of sponsorship each year and our P.M. can only do so much as Chair so it’s a collective challenge for everybody. It’s not just about money and I know people like our Samoa Rugby Union CEO Vincent works tirelessly to put things on for our national team but never gets the credit stands up and does his very best for the players and the Players Association and all we can ask for is that the boys go out and perform to the best of their abilities. David Tua says that a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter and I think that if everything is taken care of outside the rugby field then the boys will go out there and play their hearts out. Even if they lose, Samoans are very forgiving.
More difficult: Playing or administrating?
Winners on Friday: Blues or Reds?
Blues, not only because there is a huge Samoan influence in that team, and yes there are in the Reds team also but because of that history over the years – hey Tana Umaga is coming, Jerome Kaino is here and let’s be fair, all respect to the Reds, the Samoans over the years have been mostly New Zealand supporters.
Wingers who have caught your eye?
That’s a hard one. Players are so versatile these days, not as specialist as when we were playing. You have props that can pass like half backs and first fives who have speeds like wingers like Beauden Barrett – a classic example he’s just as fast as any winger going around but he’s a standoff. I like the way Naholo’s coming back and Rieko Ioane, he’s a star and the way Tana has looked after him really nicely he’s another guy I’m quite impressed with. He reads the game well, involves himself quite a bit and that’s what you’re looking for – very few weaknesses that I see in his game.
Game Changer for Samoa rugby: Money or Other
Back in the Super 10s we had a triangular competition between Samoa, Tonga and Fiji and from that the Pacific Island Rugby team came out. I thought that was fantastic and I’d like to see that back out there again. I’d like to see us given the opportunity to showcase our rugby in the Super Rugby competition as a combined team and let’s not forget this is not just about us it’s about our brothers as well. We’re all fighting for survival. That would help because it’s consistency – that’s why these teams can play so much better because they play regularly. You can’t expect us to pull a rabbit out of a hat every four years.
The best scenario - if you ask me?
Let’s get a Pacific team into the Super 15. That is something that everyone has been banging on about. I think SANZAR in this case they need, not want a Pacific Island team like they had before – PIRA. It was hugely successful but here’s the danger for SANZAR or the bigger nations. That we become very successful. The best way is for them to give us the same opportunities – Super Rugby. And here’s the thing. Why travel time zones when we are here? We showcased with the All Blacks that we have the facilities and that we can put things together. Maybe we share it around with Fiji, yes Tonga has to step up and lift their standards and facilities but Samoa and Fiji already have the infrastructure. It couldn’t go any higher than the All Blacks coming here two years ago. What an incredible experience that was.
So, include us.
Manu Samoa v All Blacks in NZ
Yes it does feel a bit like lip service again but we’re grateful to NZ for offering us that test match as a warm up game for them. The All Blacks are always slow starters when it comes to international fixtures so we’ve been give that opportunity to be included in that double banger with Wales and Tonga, but it needs to be consistent. The Australians play the All Blacks every year so why can’t we?
The ripple effects are much larger than having a one-off test every two or three years.