Seilala Mapusua has come a long way since first arriving in Dunedin as a fresh-faced 19-year-old. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn catches up with the former midfielder, who is back in the city he calls home.
Seilala Mapusua promised himself something when he first arrived in Dunedin, fresh out of Wesley College.
Though he was only just starting out as a professional rugby player he had already bookmarked an end.
“I’ve always said to myself that I would finish playing professionally at 36. I called that when I was 19 and have always stuck to it,” Mapusua said.
“I married a Dunedin girl and we wanted to come back here for family reasons. Dunedin is a great place to raise kids.”
Aged 36 now, Mapusua is about to call time on his career, but cannot quite put a full stop on the playing days, still turning out for Harbour.
“Yeah, I am still playing, much to my wife’s disappointment. But I am still really enjoying it and feel as though I’ve still got a little bit to give to the game.”
It may well be a battle of the veterans today, when Harbour takes on Zingari-Richmond at Montecillo.
Mapusua, of Harbour, may well lock horns against Zingari-Richmond centre Neil Brew.
The duo were both members of the national colts team in 2000 and then teamed up for Otago in the midfield for a few years.
Mapusua ended up playing 50 games for the Highlanders and 74 games for Otago before lheading to the United Kingdom in 2006, followed by a five-year stint in Japan.
It was a move he never regretted and one he and his family, wife Ana, and son Jaquan (now 13) thoroughly enjoyed.
He played for London Irish for five years and was good enough to win the premiership players’ player of the year award shortly after arriving.
“We really loved it there. Just a great place to be for a family. We were living 10 minutes from Twickenham and we got to see lots of places around Europe. Plus, you were only, say, 24 to 30 hours away from home, so you could get back here in the off-season.
“On the field, when I first arrived, the game was quite forward-orientated. I always remember one of the first games I played, we had a lineout and they talked about playing for a penalty.
“I was just fresh from Super rugby and thought there would be something better to do than just go for a penalty. I just thought you’d have to go for a try.
“But it has changed. We had Brian Smith, the Australian, so he had a bit more vision. Teams are evolving a bit more now. They will still have their traditional forward play but they use the backs more.”
Mapusua said as Jonny Wilkinson retired, England could no longer rely on his boot to win games and had to become a more all-round team.
This was working its way down the premiership.
But on the whole, English players were not as skilful.
“New Zealand has just got such good coaches. Just from that age of 10 to 13 right through high school, New Zealand is miles ahead of the rest of the world.
“At London Irish, kids would come in from high school and they would break records in how fast they could run 40m, how they could bench press 140-150kg. Yet you would ask them to throw a pass 10m and they could not do it.
“That just comes naturally to a New Zealand rugby player. That is what kids do. It is like in England when kids kick a soccer ball round.
“There is this natural instinct in New Zealand to always attack. Just to try and not let the ball die. To build phase after phase.”
After five years in London, Mapusua left for Japan where he initially played for Kubota Spears.
He has spent the past two years being the player-coach for the Kamaishi Seawolves, which is in the division below the Top league.
Being a player-coach was something he described as interesting.
“Because you are the player-coach the players were a lot more receptive to what you said, what you could see on the paddock. The players listened a lot more to what you said as opposed to the players in the Top league.
“The rugby is pretty quick. There is no doubt about that. But it is not as taxing on your body. If you enjoy the running, you’ll love it.
“They have big pre-seasons. Lots of running. I’m usually injured in the pre-season,” he joked.
The former Samoan midfielder said it was a great lifestyle in Japan.
“It is different to anywhere else in the world for a rugby player. The level of rugby is improving. There are so many big names out there now. But you can still have only two foreigners on the field at any one time.
“So the foreign players basically cancel each other out, so it often comes down to how good your Japanese players are.
“It is still not fully professional. At Kubota, the players would still spend half a day down the coal mine or at the steel plant, before they would come to training in the afternoon.
“It is still very much a company game. Just seen by the Japanese as part of their day. It is still done the Japanese way.”
Mapusua said the way the Japanese season was structured was great for New Zealanders as there was a long off season and that started at the height of summer back in New Zealand.
He chalked up more than 30 appearances for his native Samoa and said the highlight was turning out for his country at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
“They were great memories. Then the beating of Aussie in Aussie just before that World Cup.”
Mapusua got involved with the Pacific Island Players Association and said the focus was on improving conditions for Pacific Islands players.
“We have come a long way already. You have to worry when you hear about French clubs setting up academies in Fiji, players from the Islands ending up in the French team or playing for England.
“But we have to look at the governance issues first. It is hard to ask for help when we are not helping ourselves. We just need to tidy up our own house first.”
He said in some regards Pacific Island players were still treated as second-class citizens but sometimes that was down to the players.
“We’ve been on the short end of the stick a few times. But that All Black test last year meant a lot to Samoa. They won’t forget that in a hurry.”
Mapusua is now back working for the Otago Rugby Football Union as a coach development officer.
He said coaching was something that interested him and he felt Otago and the Highlanders had a good bunch of coaches at the moment.
He was also looking to complete an applied business management course at Otago Polytechnic.
“I’m just really enjoying my new role. Just helping guys learn and coaching them. I suppose I just still love the game so much.’
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