Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua says his country and Tonga would benefit from a similar development model that has seen Fiji take the Rugby World Cup by storm.
While Fiji look on course to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 2007 after beating Australia 22-15 in Pool C, Samoa’s own Pool D hopes were dealt a blow in Friday’s 19-10 defeat to Argentina.
Samoa have not reached the knockout stages since 1999, when they qualified for the quarterfinal playoffs. They have not reached the last eight itself since 1995.
Mapusua says Samoa need more matches against Tier 1 nations, but also pointed to the Fijian Drua club side taking part in Super Rugby as a developmental pathway to improve results at an international level.
“The success of a Tier II nation like Fiji, there’s a direct correlation between the amount of games but also the types of games they’re playing,” said Mapusua.
“We’re so proud of what they’re doing at the moment and seeing their lead in to the World Cup, playing France and England and then going straight into Wales and beating Australia, that’s pretty impressive to be doing that week in week out.”
Samoa were left kicking themselves after an early yellow card for full-back Duncan Paia’aua and a wayward kicking performance by fly-half Christian Leali’ifano cost them against Argentina.
Having also run Ireland close in a World Cup warm-up, Mapusua feels his side only needs more matches to emulate Fiji’s success.
“We’re showing that we can be competitive against teams like Argentina, who are playing in the Rugby Championship, teams like Ireland – the No 1 ranked in the world.
“The more games we can play, the more times we can get to play the Tier 1 nations or top 10 teams, can only be a good thing for us as Manu Samoa.”
The Argentina match was only Samoa’s third against a Tier 1 nation since the last World Cup in 2019.
“We’re definitely not making excuses or saying that we’re not here to play or we’re not ready, but it’s pretty hard to argue against the fact that it would make it better preparation for us to play those games more regularly.”
Part of Fiji’s success is down to their Super Rugby franchise, the Fijian Drua, which gives their domestic based players the opportunity to take part in top level club matches.
While the New Zealand-based Moana Pasifika provides a similar pathway for Samoan and Tongan players, it also includes players that qualify for New Zealand and Australia.
While the Fijian Drua won six matches in 2023 and reached the play-offs, Moana Pasifika have only won three matches out of 24 over two seasons and finished bottom of the table both times.
“The model that the Drua is using at the moment with Fiji has shown that it works and is a successful model, and I think both Samoa and Tonga would need similar models,” said Mapusua.
“Maybe not exactly the same, there’s a big difference in terms of population and a lot of things to consider.”
But he does expect to see some improved results from Moana Pacfika in the near future, and thus for the Samoa and Tonga national teams.
“Having Moana Pacifika has definitely helped and it will be in the next three to five years that we will really see the fruition of Moana Pacifika and how they can add to both Samoa and Tonga,”he said.