22 June 2019, Apia Samoa. One of Samoa’s most talented local players, Johnny Vaili will not be taking the field today at the PPS Super 9 finals for his home side, Isuzu Aana Chiefs, by virtue of a decision handed down by 7s coach Sir Gordon Tietchens.
The call by SGT affects two players for the Isuzu Aana Chiefs, Johnny Vaili and Johnny Samuelu who are both under the radar of Manu 15s coach Steve Jackson.
Local fans of the Isuzu Aana Chiefs franchise and village supporters say they were looking forward to seeing the Try-Scoring Machine live in action after a fantastic year at the HSBC Sevens world series.
A fisherman from Satapuala, Johnny Vaili was selected into the national 7s squad by Gordon Tietchens in 2018 after consistent performances in the Super 9 for the Aana Chiefs, and for his role in the undefeated Samoa A Pacific Cup campaign that same year.
Johnny Vaili has taken the HSBC 7s by storm, dubbed as ‘Samoa’s Try-Scoring Machine’ and ‘One to Watch’ by the international rugby world.
In just one season, the 24 year old played 56 HSBC 7s matches, earning 151 points for Samoa from 29 tries and 3 conversions.
Isuzu Aana Chiefs team manager Taito Louis Lene said that Johnny Vaili had played in the first year of Super 9 as a 22 year old in 2017, but his attendance was inconsistent that year and when they made follow-up visits to his home, his family would say that he had taken to the ocean with his fishing gear.
“It’s very difficult to get players to attend training at the grassrooots when they are also responsible for their farms and for working the land to feed their families,” explains Taito.
In 2018, Johnny Vaili performed consistently with encouragement and support from his franchise management to ensure that he was able to commit the time to his rugby development and fulfill family obligations.
“That’s why franchises have to find funds from the local business community to pay weekly allowances, so players can justify their time to turn up to training regularly and play consistently for 9-10 weeks.”
Controversy broke out before the semi-final match last week between the Aana Chiefs and the Savaii Vikings when Johhny Vaili and Johnny Samuelu were handed down ‘stop notices’ from the SRU, preventing them from playing in the PPS Super 9 semi finals on instructions from the overseas-based Samoa 7s Head Coach Sir Gordon Tietjens.
On a TV1 interview with sports reporter Taulealea Sioeli Alofaifo aired earlier this week, the CEO of Samoa Rugby Union Faleomavaega Vincent Fepuleai said that the decision was based on the priority given to the Pacific Games. He added that Samoa lacked depth in its player pool and that fear of players sustaining injuries was one of the many factors to be considered.
The Aana Chiefs Manager had argued vehemently last week for the oppprtunity to play Johnny Vaili and Johnny Samuelu, on account of the players wanting a chance to be seen by the Manu Samoa 15s coach who is currently in Apia with some of his overseas-based coaching staff.
Taito said at the time, that the Manu Samoa 15s Head Coach Steve Jackson had specifically asked to see the two players, and as a franchise they were keen to see their players be considered for the Rugby World Cup squad.
Faleomavaega said during his TV1 interview that Johnny Vaili and Johnny Samuelu had both submitted resignations to their 7s contracts on Friday last week, requesting to be released and be able to play in the remaining matches of the PPS Super 9.
He went on to say that the SRU did not accept the resignations of the players and that they each had 5 more months left on their contracts.
For the Super 9 finals today, the Aana Chiefs Manager says that their franchise has accepted the decision of the SRU, and have moved on this week to ensure that they immerse the players in a positive mindset and provide the best possible environment for the lead up to the finals.
Taito says that the Chiefs are fielding the same line-up as they did against the Vikings last week in their semi final 31-22 win.
“Our players are ready and eager to play with the players we have. It’s pretty much the same team as last week. We are excited and look forward to a good match today against the Eels.”
A media alert from the SRU confirms that Manu Samoa Head Coach Steve Jackson and SRU Chairman Hon Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi will be naming the Rugby World Cup extended squad today after the PPS Super 9 finals.