Samoa look for long-term success

​The Samoans aren't just trying to beat a path to the quarterfinals at this World Cup, they are hoping to create a more attractive pathway for the next generation of players.

Success at this tournament won't be exclusively determined by how far they progress.

The perfect campaign would be to make the last eight and show that Manu Samoa are no longer trading on just their talent: that they have a stable, high performance team behind them and that they have the people and the structure to climb the world rankings.

There has been, for too long, a gap between Samoa's potential and their achievement, with a multitude of contributing factors. All of their problems could fit neatly under one roof so to speak - they haven't been able to persuade enough players to commit to Samoa - or at least to commit their best years to Samoa.

Again, there are multiple reasons for this, none more significant than the likely financial penalty Samoan players - and other Pacific Islanders - will incur if they play test football.

It is an age-old problem and hasn't been fixed, that clubs - European, Japanese and Southern Hemisphere - will offer either financial benefits to those who don't play for their country or penalties against those who do.

Census Johnston, the giant Samoan prop who is a major star in European rugby, knows all about the dilemma club's can create.

He decided to retire from test rugby earlier this year, not because he felt the time was right, but because at 34-years-old, he was tempted by the offer Toulouse made to keep him - which was dependent on him no longer playing for Samoa.

"Toulouse, had offered me a good contract and at the time I thought [retiring] was good for my family and me," says Johnston.

"No it's not [fair] and I guess when I made that decision a lot of it came down to that [possible financial penalties]. I had been playing international rugby for the last 10 years. It wasn't for the money. It was just for the love of my country and being around my boys."

Johnston was also nervous about having been publicly critical of the regime at the end of last year. He was one of the players who spoke out against the Samoan administration in November - a period in which the threat of strike action was made by the squad.

It was a line in the sand moment from the players who decided they had to force the executive to the table and finally put basic structures in place around payment, coaching, resource and general expectations.

The players weren't agitating to get rich, but they knew the Samoan Rugby Union was drawing funds from World Rugby that were pegged for the development of the national team.

That investment wasn't making its way to the right place and the players decided they had no choice but to push for change.

"I was involved in the November tests and we had the threat of strike action going on then," says Johnston. "I had to try to talk to the coaches about selection because I didn't know what was going to happen. Me and a couple of the other senior boys, we spoke out against the Union and you know what the history of the Union is..?

"Once you speak out, your career becomes in danger. So at the time I thought 'I have spoken out now, maybe they are not going to select me' for the World Cup."

His fears were, for once, unfounded. An historic agreement was reached between the players and the Samoan Rugby Union and a collective contract was signed.

He was forgiven, as he thinks he has been by Toulouse, although he doesn't say whether playing at the World Cup will lead to them reducing his pay.

Right now, he's not bothered by any of that because Samoa are in the midst of an epic battle in Pool B.

Although disappointed by their heavy loss to South Africa, players and management remain united. That in itself is a breakthrough.

It's made the experience of playing at this World Cup significantly better than the last campaign and newcomers such as Motu Matu'u and Tim Nanai-Williams say they have no regrets about committing.

Both were born in New Zealand and were on the All Black radar - Matu'u as late as last year when he might have been called to Europe as Nathan Harris' replacement had it not been for shoulder surgery.

They are typical of many New Zealand-born players with Samoan heritage in that they chase the All Black dream first. Matu'u decided earlier this year to make the switch and now that he has, he's certain he did the right thing.

"It was a tough decision for me," says Matu'u. "Growing up in New Zealand the dream for me was to be an All Black. I knew I wasn't getting any younger and especially the way I play the game, I may not have longevity.

"It wasn't until I was part of the team that I felt like this was where I was supposed to be. It was something really emotional and heartfelt for me. It is where my mum and dad are from and growing up in New Zealand it can be quite tough to understand the culture. It was special for me and I knew I had done the right thing."

Matu'u, Johnston and the rest of the squad know that huge improvements have been made in Samoan rugby and there are more to come.

They have a high performance centre in Apia; a collective agreement; a new chief executive and possibly a longer-term commitment from Alama Ieremia to direct the game's development.

But the players also understand there is no better way to sell that future than to deliver two big performances in their remaining pool games.

There will be no better recruitment tool than victories.

Says Matu'u: "I think the opportunity is there to open up some gates - to other kids growing up in New Zealand. To say come to Samoa."