Aaron Mauger on the Courage and Resilience at the Heart of Moana Pasifika


Aaron Mauger isn’t quite sure how he ended up standing in the chair in the coaches box in the crazy moments after flying substitute Danny Toala scored the game winner in Moana Pasifika’s 24-19 win over the Hurricanes at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.

In fact, he only realized he was up there when someone started squeezing his legs.

“The excitement took over,” Mauger told The Roar Sports podcast.

“[Assistant coach] Valley [MacLeod] squeezed my legs. I don’t know if it was out of excitement or if he was trying to protect me from falling!

Moana Pasifika’s first victory in the Super Rugby Pacific competition was as joyous as it was unexpected. The previous week, they had lost 59-12 to the Chiefs. The Covid-19 had stuffed their preparation. The team didn’t meet in person until three weeks before their first pre-season game.

Moana Pasifika coach Aaron Mauger, captain Sekope Kepu and star player Henry Time-Stowers have joined The Roar Rugby podcast to talk about their first season in Super Rugby. Stream it here on your favorite podcast app

This season, four of their games have been canceled and rescheduled. They played six games in 23 days.

Mauger, a 45-Test All Black and four-time Super Rugby champion with the Crusaders, describes these things, coach-style, as ‘challenging’. But lest you think it’s all platitudes and coaching talk, Mauger added that beating the Hurricanes was “one of the best moments I’ve had in the game.”

“It was a very proud moment…I’ve been on some big occasions – Test match football, Super Rugby titles but this…I remember seeing [All Blacks legend] Sir Bryan Williams, and the smile on his face, he was just beaming.

“People like that who paved the way for this team, to see it with tears in their eyes – that was a pretty awesome moment,” Mauger said.

Like everyone in the Pasifika team, players and coaches, Mauger sees himself as more than a member of a professional rugby team. He talks about the inspiration of the elders – Williams, legendary All Blacks and Auckland flanker Michael Jones. And not just famous rugby players. But the family. Ancestors.

“My own grandmother, she was adopted into another part of her family in Tonga. She never saw her biological parents again. She got on the boat to come to New Zealand at 19, to explore the world, creating opportunities. It takes courage to do that, resilience.

“She’s one of the most special people I’ve ever met, if not the most important. She definitely taught my family a lot,” Mauger said.

The team often shares similar stories. Mauger said all of them had a parent or loved one who got their way. He said the team felt “privileged” to set a similar example for Pacific youth today.

Mauger uses the term “family” to describe his team. In the not atypical island folk fashion, it’s a big piece.

Moana has used 46 players in eight games this season; 30 of them are Super Rugby debutants. There are players who have only played a handful of NPC games. There are some who have never played in this third level.

Some of the players – and there are shades of the 1996 Brumbies in that – weren’t drafted into the academies of competitive New Zealand provinces. Mauger said “there were scars there” among the rejections.

Overall, however, Mauger is a positive man. Indeed, he meets a small Svengali. By using 46 players, he said it improved their pool. Not being able to play, he said it allowed them to spend time together. He said winning an eight-leg game in the tough New Zealand conference had been “nice”.

And he said his team knew where rugby fit in the wider scheme.

“I love coaching these boys,” Mauger said. “It’s like a family. Our cultural roots really contribute to this.

“We connect with prayer and sing songs in the morning. We are more than just a rugby team.

“Gaming is really important to us, a vehicle for everyone to express themselves and grow. But it’s part of our lives and everyone has a context on it.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not very competitive and trying to win. But we have an idea of ​​where the game is and how we like it.

Head Coach Aaron Mauger talks to his team. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Moana will take on the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday night at AAMI Park, feeling refreshed after their game against Western Force was canceled due to Covid-19. The Rebels, meanwhile, were beaten 42-17 by the Crusaders.

When asked if his team was confident ahead of the game, Mauger replied that “the power of humility is a strength”, that his team has “critical anchors” and that “the rebels are a good team and the heart they showed against the Crusaders…they really scrapped.

About his own team’s game plan, he said it wouldn’t differ much from the one used in every game. They will attack.

“People talk about earning the right to go far. Our guys, if they have the space and can sustain their skills to make it happen, that’s the best opportunity.

“What it does is expand a team and make the middle a little bit easier. It’s a big philosophy for us,” Mauger said.

The other big philosophy is their connection to their communities and to each other.

“We have a strong focus on the game of rugby, but also on relationships with each other and with our key stakeholders and our community – helping them feel connected to our journey,” he says.

“I think they feel it. Engagement levels have been exceptional.

“We are improving every day. We have five million coaches in New Zealand. Everyone is critical, but we’re lucky to have that level of support.




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