Not all wins are in the record books

Let me first state for the record that I’ve been on both ends of a blow-out. I have been a coach and a player for teams that were both methodical and tactical in wins as well as on teams that showed up on game day with the understanding that we were there like a proverbial lamb being led to the slaughter.

Victors are allowed to relish in triumph because it’s assumed that they have put together all the necessary parts and personnel to win. They have put in the hours of practice, dissected their opponent and organized a plan to win. Losers may have gone through the same process as well; maybe more so in order to find some weaknesses in their opponent to exploit and perhaps stun their superior counterparts. A little luck in the scenario may help as well. More often than not, however, a team without the requisite weapons to fight blow for blow, try as they might, will eventually concede that they did their best but in the end they were outmatched, overwhelmed and outgunned by the stronger, faster and more talented and schooled team.

I for one do not enjoy blow-out victories. Sure, I love it when my team wins but what I don’t love is seeing the dejected looks on the faces of an opposition that has the will to fight but hardly the skill to win. I don’t revel in embarrassing a severely disadvantaged team, particularly if that team is just learning to play or even just learning to play together. As a coach, we learn very little from lopsided wins because in my mind, a team that experiences a bit of opposition and adversity will truly appreciate success and the effort that it took to earn the victory. Nor can we as a team implement strategies if all we do is destroy opposing teams with superior talent and skill.

Let’s face it; it’s fun to win, but winning is not everything when you’re also trying to teach your team a few life lessons. Many will disagree with me, but I believe that there is an aspect of sportsmanship that comes with resisting the urge to kick a man when he is down. I was reminded of that attribute this past weekend when our rugby team traveled to play a newer team here in our State in an area that is relatively new to rugby.

Prior to the match, our coaching staff was approached by the oppositions head coach that although her players love playing the game of rugby, they acknowledged that they were reluctant to play us because they lacked the skill and rugby acumen to compete with our well-established (and might I add tongue in cheek, highly decorated) team. A plan was formulated between the two head coaches and our head coach brought the boys together for a pre-game huddle.

“Boys,’ our coach, Colin Puriri started, ‘we always play to win. But sometimes we can win without the benefit of a scoreboard. Today, we’re going to win by being ambassadors for the game.” With that preface, he proceeded to inform the boys that we would be ‘loaning’ our starting forward pack to the opposition for the duration of the first half. At half time, we would get our forwards back, but we would then loan our back-line to the opposing team.

At first there were looks of bewilderment on the faces of our players. But gradually, as the realization that we were about to be a part of something extraordinary, smiles and fits of laughter slowly spread across the team. This was a chance to have a little of fun, spread a bit of good cheer and teach another group of boys why we all love the game of rugby so much.

After overcoming the initial awkwardness of playing alongside people they had not played with before, both sides relished the competition and forged new friendships in an decidedly entertaining game. By the end of the first half, every boy had a chance to compete and everyone learned more than a few valuable lessons both on and off the field.

Our opposition got to play alongside all-star and all-American representatives and learn the game from a different perspective. Our team on the other hand, learned the more valuable lesson that day: That winning off the field as ambassadors of the game is always more important than running up the score.

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Manu Samoa, Denotation & Implication: A pictorial essay

Grandiose, I get it. But this stuff is serious for me and the thousands of Manu Samoa fans who are praying, cheering and longing for a favorable result for their team. I’m often asked why I’m so fanatical about Samoa’s team and why they mean so much to a tiny island nation situated smack dab in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean.

Contemplating a response, I found these moving, evocative photos of the team illuminating. I use them here as compassionate companions to my scarce narrative.

ManuSamoa1

Represent – They carry the hopes of a nation. They are our ambassadors on one of the world’s biggest stage. Even before they take the field they have felt the weight of an ardent, adoring nation. From subsistence farmers, fishermen and homemakers to professionals and educators, these men, who wear the flag and colors of Samoa, know what it means to bear the burden of expectation.

ManuSamoa2

Pride – It is embedded in the hearts and minds of every young Samoan. When we prepare to leave home for a day, for a week, for a lifetime, for a moment, the words of our elders ring clear: Remember the name you carry. Remember where you come from. The way your carry yourself, your speech is a reflection of your family; your people. There is no monetary gain and there are no great rewards, only the pride in bringing a tiny nation level with the major powers on the planet if only for a few blissful, fleeting moments.

ManuSamoa3

Courage – It is the hallmark of our character. When you are faced with adversity and doubt begins to fray your edges there is only one way to go and that is forward. Stand your ground, stare your adversary in the eye, square your shoulders and charge into the fight. If I cannot conquer the world, at the very least the world will know that I did my very best at slaying my fears.

Perseverance – No one really remembers how you started the race but everyone will remember how you finished. Great teams battle through hardship and our boys have seen a lot of that over the years. Some adversity comes from within, most of it comes from without; but the best solutions for any trials can be found in the space that exists between your ears and the eat that resonates from your chest. The rest is up to you.

ManuSamoa5

Flair – We are nothing without exuberance. The challenge is containing our passion but containing it stifles our creativity and our imagination for opportunity. Yes, there is power in our limbs and the pace in our feet is equaled only by the emotion in which we live each moment.

ManuSamoa6

Unity – That’s all

GO THE MANU!

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Tonga vs Georgia – A rumble worth watching

It’s only the second game of the Rugby World Cup and already I’m complaining about the officiating. But seriously, if you watched the same game I saw between the home team, England taking on the always entertaining Fijians than you know that South Africa referee Jaco Peyper and his crew were well off the mark. I mean, if the referee becomes more visible than the game itself than you know something is off, right?

Nigel Owens’ job will not be any easier as he sets out to officiate what will be a brutal encounter between Tonga and Georgia. The two sides are known for the physicality and punch up’s. Pundits often jibe and sneer when a Pacific Islander team takes the pitch and more than enough of the commentary during a broadcast will be devoted to the ill-discipline from Samoa or Fiji or Tonga. What may surprise most people who are not Polynesian is the team that lacks the most discipline is the team that will face Tonga tomorrow.

Georgia leads the field of combatants in the yellow cards column with an unbelievable tally of 48 yellow cards across the team. Meanwhile Tonga, a team that many would say is prone to the sort of thing that nowadays could lead to hefty fines and suspensions, have less than half of that total with just 22. Regardless, the Tongans will relish the physical nature of the Georgian attack simply because, well, we Polynesians love being physical.

But Tonga will not look past Georgia either but will look to fine tune their attack and defense against a team that they have beaten twice and narrowly lost to once back in 1999, when most of the Tongan team were still school boys. I predict that Tonga will be the victors so long as they are tactical, clinical and calm under the relentless pressure from Georgia especially up front. The calming presence of veterans Kurt Morath, Vungakoto Lilo and captain Nili Latu will help settle boys for a long 80-minutes of fierce rugby but it will be the emergence of young stars like Will Helu and Siale Piutau that will carry Tonga to victory and hopefully beyond Pool C.

Tonga v Georgia RWC2015

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