DUNEDIN, 13 AUGUST 2020 (STUFF NZ)—Seilala Mapusua has been riding the emotional rollercoaster since being named new head coach of Manu Samoa’s national XVs side. From elation to trepidation and back again, this midfield maestro turned rugby mentor has had quite some first full day on the job.
Mapusua was confirmed late on Tuesday in the islands as last man standing after an extensive interview and assessment process to find the new head coach of this proud but faltering Pacific rugby nation.
Coming in, as he does, in the midst of a global pandemic, to take charge of a programme facing some of the mightiest challenges in the game, this softly spoken, hugely loyal Samoan doesn’t mind telling Stuff from his home in Dunedin that the emotions have been swirling.
“It’s the biggest honour … even more so than as a player,” he reflects during a busy day of media commitments and a crucial zoom call with his new boss in Samoa. “I don’t think it will sink in for a little bit. But I also know there is a massive challenge ahead.
“It’s a day of mixed emotions … massive elation followed by a very quick onset of panic. It is a big job, but it’s not an undertaking I take lightly. As a coach I’m always asking players to be brave, and I have to live the same things myself. It wasn’t an easy decision but at the same time it wasn’t a hard one either.”
The 40-year-old Mapusua, of course, has plenty to think about. This will be his first major head coaching assignment, if you don’t count four years running the Otago under-19s programme. But he also feels ready after rubbing shoulders with the likes of Aaron Mauger, Tony Brown and Ben Herring in support roles with the Highlanders and Otago Mitre 10 Cup side.
“After retiring and being on the outside, I really wanted to contribute more,” he says. “Being away a few years, and developing my craft, this was a way I could influence the team directly. I didn’t want to be sitting on a couch for another four years wishing I had acted.”
He feels ready, between the southern coaching apprenticeship and his vast experiences as a fleet-footer, power-packed midfielder for Otago, the Highlanders, London Irish and, of course, Manu Samoa. It is time to be part of the solution, as he will be alongside Brian LIma who has been named to head the sevens programme.
That he comes in at such an important juncture, with a Pasifika team poised tantalisingly on the cusp of being welcomed into the Super Rugby fold, and some pivotal decision looming around international player eligibility and accessibility, just adds to those mixed feelings of exhilaration and consternation.
“I always knew the challenges that would come with the role,” says this father of three. “They’re big-picture challenges too. I understand it’s not just a coaching role, and even now I struggle to articulate how big of a challenge it will be.”
You suggest he’ll need to be part politician, part diplomat, part coach, part businessman as he battles, first, to get hold of his players and, then, to bring them together with time and budgetary restraints. His smile brokers no argument.
“The key for me now is surrounding myself with good people,” he says. “I need to ensure the circle immediately around me is of the highest quality, and they’re people whose values and ideas align with my own. That will be a good starting point.”
Mapusua, naturally, is all for the long-overdue Pasifika involvement in Super Rugby. It has New Zealand’s support. Maybe not Australia’s. In these uncertain times, there is still work to be done to make the dream a reality.
“It’s something I wasn’t sure I was going to see in my lifetime, but now there’s an awesome opportunity. I’m hoping everything aligns, we get the right people in there and it becomes an entity that is sustainable and competitive, because it’s going to be very important in terms of the development of the Pacific Island nations.” (PACNEWS)
He isn’t married to a particular base. Apia, Suva, Auckland, Sydney … it comes down to what works for the team, and quite possibly it’s a mix of them all. “As long as it’s aligned back to the Pacific unions, that’s the most important ingredient. Then it becomes about where’s the best place to base it?”
In terms of those aforementioned challenges, player access, funding and eligibility sit right up at the top of the tree.
“It comes back to resources, financial and human, and also infrastructure. Where and how can we hold training camps and development programmes?” he notes. “There’s a golden opportunity in front of us to change those for the better, or improve them so everyone benefits.”
And, yes, he would love to see the test eligibility rule changed to allow former All Blacks and the like to represent their nations of heritage, where they would be so influential. At the same time he’d dearly like to capture young Samoans too for a programme “they want to be part of”.
These are busy, and heady, times. Amongst a myriad of congratulatory messages he received Wednesday was one from Samoa great Apollo Perelini whom Mapusua admired so much as a youngster; and another from his old skipper Mahonri Schwalger.
These are men he can tap into. Also his first Samoa coach, the great Sir Michael Jones. “These are our heroes, our champions, and they are going to be key people for me.”…PACNEWS

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