20 February 2022, Apia Samoa. The Manu Samoa 7’s team of 20 players and 5 management will relocate from Dubai to Australia, while a request by five overseas-based players to leave the camp, has been granted.
Rugby’s governing body, Lakapi Samoa, announced the decision on Saturday night, with Vice Chairman Afamasaga Toeolesulusulu Rico Tupai quoting the team’s welfare as the basis of the Board’s decision.
“Rugby is secondary,” said Afamasaga, “but the main concern for us is the welfare of the team, both players and management, during these uncertain times”.
The decision follows a week-long inquiry conducted by a board-appointed special committee that included a player representative, to investigate allegations of mistreatment in a player complaint letter sent to the Pacific Rugby Players Association (PRP) and also published in verbatim by a Samoa local radio station, Radio Polynesia, last Saturday night.
“Factors such as contracting covid-19, missing out on the two HSBC Series legs in Spain and the duration of the campaign being too long in Dubai, were all highlighted by the Board Sub-Committee as having contributed to the issues that arose. “These areas were compounded by miscommunication and differences in expectations,” reads the statement.
Vice Chairman Afamasaga Toeolesulusulu says Australia is a more conducive environment, and the Manu Samoa 7’s team will continue to maintain training & conditioning programmes while they are there.
“In Australia, the team will be surrounded by the support of relatives and Samoan communities, and we feel that would go a long way to re-settle them following the recent events,” he adds.
Players called for “an immediate removal and replacement of the Coach and Management” in their letter, stating, “A number of us are involved in high performance rugby programs at national levels in both Australia and NZ.”
Five of the six overseas based players selected by Coach Muliagatele to complement a young mostly uncapped local squad, will now depart from the team.
“Lakapi Samoa has also accepted the request by five overseas-based players to leave the camp,” reads the statement.
A mixture of youth, experience and returning veterans were named amongst Muliagatele Brian Lima’s 20-player travelling squad in December last year. Five overseas players were named, however, a sixth player, Jay Tuivaiti of Waitemata in NZ was brought in to replace a later injury to former Manu Under 20’s star Moomoo Falaniko.
Two notable veterans were named, Alefosio Tafili who last played for the MS 7’s in 2016 under Head Coach Damien McGrath, with Lima as assistant. Tafili scored a try at the HSBC Paris final that year, the last time Manu Samoa has won a series leg. David Afamasaga played for the Manu Samoa 7’s team under Head Coach Sir Gordan Titjens. In the four years the legendary Sir Gordan led the MS 7’s squad, Samoa was not able to secure a win in any of the HSBC 7’s series legs.
Subject to Government of Samoa SOE border restrictions, the national team are unable to return to home due to a travel ban on those who have contracted covid-19. Vice Chairman Afamasaga Toeolesulusulu said Lakapi Samoa respects the Government’s 6-month border control restrictions.
In releasing the overseas based players, Lakapi Samoa says it acknowledged that most of the issues raised were ironed out in the interim. “The remaining issues will be considered at the Union’s usual Post Campaign Review Process”.
Afamasaga thanked the families of players and management for their patience and ongoing support. “We do acknowledge the sacrifice your sons, husbands and fathers are making to represent Samoa,” said Afamasaga.
“Lakapi Samoa has worked closely with World Rugby and the Pacific Rugby Players Association in the past week, and acknowledge their support, not only in this process, but ongoing..
In closing, the Lakapi Samoa Board expressed their sincere appreciation to the community of Samoa diaspora in Dubai. “Your unconditional support towards our Manu Samoa 7’s team since their arrival is appreciated, and we thank you,” concluded Vice Chairman Afamasaga.