Samoa coach hopes COVID helps usher in global calendar

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Seilala Mapusua is well aware of the challenges facing him after he was appointed Samoa’s national rugby coach but thinks there is now a real desire among the game’s powerbrokers to resolve some of the issue facing Tier Two nations.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - South Africa v Samoa IRB Rugby World Cup 2011 Pool D - North Harbour Stadium, North Shore, New Zealand - 30/9/11. Samoa's Seilala Mapusua (C) is tackled by South Africa's Francois Steyn (R) and Schalk Burger (L). Mandatory Credit: Action Images/Jason O'Brien.

The former Samoa international was appointed earlier this month to succeed Steve Jackson, who took the side to last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The 40-year-old Mapusua, who carved out a long professional career in New Zealand, Britain and Japan, is the fourth coach the side has had in four years.

That turnover reflects some of the instability at the South Pacific rugby nations of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, who routinely face problems related to funding, domestic pathways, player release and inequity of resources.

Mapusua, however, said the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has halted international rugby, may have a silver lining.

“What COVID has done is presented us with an opportunity to work towards a global season,” Mapusua told Reuters from Dunedin on Thursday. “I think everyone is crying out for it.”

World Rugby cancelled all tests in their June window and have been involved in discussions about realigning the seasons in both hemispheres.

Mapusua said one of the benefits of a global calendar would be to end friction between clubs and national sides.

Pacific nations have complained that clubs sometimes put indirect pressure on players to not make themselves available for tests, even for World Cups.

“Once we have a global season that will eliminate that club v country issue that really only the Tier Two players have to deal with,” Mapusua said.

“Tier One teams don’t have to worry about that club versus country battle. Hopefully in the next 12 months we can see some movement in that space.”

Mapusua was also keen for World Rugby to address eligibility rules, where players can only represent one country at senior level.

The Pacific Players union has suggested players who have represented Tier One teams could undergo a stand down period before being allowed to represent a Tier Two side if they have the appropriate heritage or citizenship.

Such a change would allow players like former All Blacks Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua, both of whom were born in New Zealand but left to sign lucrative European contracts, to appear for Tonga and Samoa respectively.

“I would love to see the world’s best players at a pinnacle event like the World Cup,” Mapusua said.

“Having those guys in the island teams and showing the local guys what they go through, what they can contribute in terms of development of our national teams (is massive).”

Editing by Peter Rutherford