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We caught up with Moana Pasifika’s Chief Executive Pelenato Sakalia and Head Coach Aaron Mauger after the team’s ten day isolation in Queenstown.
As the Super Rugby Pacific 2022 season kicked off last week, fans across the globe were filled with excitement that had been brewing for weeks. For players and coaching staff, it was finally a chance to rip into some long overdue game time.
However this wasn’t the case for Moana Pasifika and Head Coach Aaron Mauger. Labelled as the “rookies” to the Super Rugby stage, Moana Pasifika were far from being rookies to off field obstacles. Already separated from families in Auckland due to a move to Queenstown for a Covid free tournament, the club now had another lingering issue to deal with.
A week before Round 1 began, seven players from the Moana Pasifika camp tested positive for Covid. This resulted in the whole team and staff being isolated for 10 days in their rooms in Queenstown. The highly anticipated match between Moana Pasifika and their brothers at The Blues had to be shelved.
On Monday 21 February, the first cohort of isolated players and team members were released out of isolation, joining together as a team after ten days apart. Despite the pushbacks, Aaron Mauger believes that his team needs to tackle the problems day by day and be present.
“It certainly was not how we wanted to spend our time in Queenstown.It was a challenge, but I am proud of our team and how we have pulled through. I think a big part of that was letting go of what was happening, but bringing our horizon forward to the day and how we get through today rather than looking too far ahead”, says Mauger
Part of staying present through all this hysteria was creating a balanced routine for players as they were confided in their own spaces individually. Mauger spoke of the difficulty it was for them as the hotel itself was not designed for MIQ purposes.
Nevertheless, Moana Pasifika managed to adjust and adapt just as they have been doing prior to this.
“Some of the things we did in our rooms ran around a structured schedule. We had daily lotus (prayer) as a team every morning which was followed by yoga and pilates”
“Lotus were always a routine for us daily, but with the isolation and Covid case, it became useful in harnessing both our mental and spiritual mindset.
“These activities created lessons for the boys to keep calm and remain at ease with everything going on around us. I thought our staff did really good in creating a well structured program for the boys”
Although he did not wish to comment on any specifics on the players who contracted the virus, Mauger applauded NZRU for creating proper pathways to follow for the positive players.
Moana Pasifika’s expected return to Super Rugby on Sunday against the Chiefs has also now been postponed for a later date due to the safety and welfare of team members who had been isolated.
Back at headquarters at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland, Moana Pasifika Chief Executive Pelenato Sakalia also shares similar thoughts to Mauger. Even with being apart from the team in Queenstown, Sakalia remains faithful that the club will prevail through any given circumstance.
“Seeing the boys back out there enjoying themselves, it is really uplifting for us. For us up here in Auckland, we just keep paving forward and continue our work, but it was good to see the boys back in training”, says Sakalia.
“We always knew there was a risk of Covid disrupting us, so that has not caught us by surprise.
Although the team were isolated and kept inside their quarters, Sakalia and his team at Mt Smart made sure that the safety of the players and management in Queenstown was always prioritised. Sakalia emphasised the importance of their behind the scenes work in maintaining the safety and welfare of the isolated team.
“Priority number one is always to make sure your team is well supported. So whatever changes happen or the impact, we always make sure everyone is safe and well supported.”
Sakalia adds, “the second thing we also kept in mind, was to always keep on working and moving forward despite the disruptions from Covid. There’s no shortage of work and we always want to keep tracking forward into how we progress together as a club”.
With the team slowly now finding their paces back into training, both Mauger and Sakalia praise the hard work done by staff who are working behind the scenes getting Moana Pasifika in full flight. In the meantime, both their focus now drives on finally having some on field action to give back to their families and fans.