By Ian Gilbert
It’s fair to say Talemo Waqa’s feet have barely touched the ground since he became the IRB’s Regional Training Consultant for Oceania.
By the end of November, the former teacher will have travelled to Ireland, France, New Zealand, Australia, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji with his new job.
Racking up the air miles now will pay off in the long term, says Waqa, who was high performance manager with the Fiji national side prior to starting his new role in August.
“As the title says – I’m a Regional Training Consultant, so before I can fully co-ordinate, it is best for me to meet training officials in the region and work with them, assist them, do training with them,” he says. “Then I can take up more of a co-ordination role.”
His workload so far has ranged from swapping ideas with other Regional Training Consultants in France to helping Samoa and Fiji hone their training plans.
This early diligence, he hopes, will mean Federation of Oceania Rugby Unions (FORU) members are “revived, refreshed and re-energised in our approach”.
Prior to his full-time involvement in rugby, Waqa taught maths and physical education and studied for his master’s degree in Australia ‑ a country that, together with New Zealand, lends training expertise to other Oceania unions.
“We are well guided by Australia and New Zealand,” he says. “We can always work together.”
While the training structure in Australia and New Zealand is well-established, the continued rise of the other 12 FORU nations is underpinned by quality programmes.
Waqa – an accredited IRB Trainer and Educator – readily embraces the ethos of delivering quality guidance to Trainers who, once qualified, can return to their regions to pass on their knowledge, creating a “cascade” effect.
Strength and conditioning courses have already been rolled out in Fiji and Samoa, and Waqa is preparing to stage a “superweek” in Fiji in January, where multiple disciplines will be taught.
Training the trainers
“Taking stock, we have very much accelerated things in the region,” Waqa says. “Other regions are moving along fast. My focus is to move it and give it a shake and work with the current structure.”
The emphasis on “Training the Trainers” dovetails into promoting the Game at youth level – an area close to Waqa’s heart as a former master at Fiji’s esteemed Queen Victoria School.
“There are two ministries we have to work with, education and health,” he says. “My role is to continue training coaches and referees so those in secondary schools are well-equipped and knowledgeable.”
Waqa is hopeful that concerted training will enable other Oceania countries to begin to match Fiji, Samoa and Tonga’s success on the international stage.
“I think Papua New Guinea has great potential, and in Sevens there are the Cook Islands with their New Zealand heritage. It’s good to develop them – rugby is the pride of their country.”
Women’s rugby is another area that will fall under Waqa’s tutelage, and he sees Sevens as particularly suited to growing the Game in areas with a small player base.
The abbreviated form of the Game means playing resources in sparsely populated areas can be concentrated in competition.
With Rio 2016 on the horizon, Sevens offers a perfect opportunity for smaller nations to make a big impact on the Olympic stage, but for now Waqa’s focus is on regional rather than national pride.
His first-year aim is to get increasing numbers of Trainers IRB-qualified to extend coaching through the regions – making all that travel well worthwhile.