Vase Samania and Simon Iopu are in their second year as the Cook Islands’ coaching/manager team, and are excited about the tournament.
“We are aiming to qualify for the Commonwealth Games, the 7’s Rugby World Cup and the WR 7’s circuit events in the Waikato, Sydney and Hong Kong,” Iopu said in an email to CINews.
“This tournament could see us come up against non-qualifying teams Australia, Samoa and Fiji and we will definitely meet New Zealand in the pool stages.
“Our primary aim is to qualify but we are always up for a challenge. We have an aim this year, to knock off one of the big four, as we nearly did Australia in 2016.” Iopu believes these tournaments are the only way for teams to measure themselves against the world’s top talent, and serve as a litmus test for their game plans.
“These tournaments are vital to helping us improve as a rugby nation… they give us some cold, hard truths as to how far off the mark we are, if at all.”
“From an individual player perspective this could be the highlight of someone’s career coming up against NZ 7s or Australia and see how well they can perform against 7s stars.”
Iopu and Samania have put a great deal of effort into the 2017 programme, with the aim of constantly improving performance, year after year.
They’ve done a thorough evaluation and analysis of last year’s performances and have identified key areas that need individual and team improvement. “Most of it is technique,” Iopu explained. “For example, for defence, statistical data shows that our tackle completion rate lingers around the 72 per cent success rate which is approximately seven missed tackles per game,”
“Digging deeper, we found that missed tackles was caused by poor tackle selection. Of all the first up tackles made in any game, 76 per cent of the attempted tackles were made high.
“I think you know what happens next.” In an attempt to rectify those problems, they have put a great many hours into research, consultation and devising better technique around one-on-one tackling, and when the squad is formed they will continue to emphasise the basic fundamentals of defence.
Another are they’ve identified that needs strengthening is fitness. Although fitness levels proved to be on par with other international teams, there still needs to be work on the anaerobic fitness, as the players need to be stronger off the ground following a tackle, Iopu says.
“Our 2016 team was committed and focused. We are expecting the same this year as the core group of players will remain this year.”
The final travelling 12 will be announced in the next couple of weeks, though Iopu stresses that the job is not done.
“All players are reminded to stick to the disciplines set out for the team and local players, attend all trainings at all times or communicate with Vase.
“Overseas players, ensure you have your training reports in on time. Our ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule applies to everyone unless exempted due to illness, injury or other legitimate reasons.
“We have five weeks to go until the Oceania tournament in Fiji so please make sure you are committed to your country’s calling.” Iopu also thanks the Cook Islands Rugby Union (CIRU), as he feels they do not get due recognition for the risks they take. “Sometimes I don’t think CIRU’s CEO Ben Koteka, chairman Moana Moeka’a and executives get enough thanks for the risks they take in trying to create rugby development pathways for our players.
“I call it a risk because money doesn’t flow as well as it does for many of the other nations in our region and the money we do get is thinly spread and in most cases not enough.
“But their vision is clearly that they want to give our children as much of an opportunity to play at the best level possible for their age group.
“It also creates a support base and streamlined system that filters in to the opened aged national rugby system that we’ve been lacking for so long.