Samoan rugby team spends 104 days trying to get home after Covid locks them down

Marcus Parekh
Manuma Samoa have been stuck in quarantine in New Zealand since late March - WILLIAM WEST/AFP

A Samoan professional rugby team are coming to the end of a remarkable 104 day journey home from a match in Australia.

Manuma Samoa left their home island on February 23 to take part in a two week training camp in Auckland before continuing on to Perth for the match against the South China Tigers. They then planned to fly home via New Zealand.

However, quarantine rules meant they had to self-isolate when they flew back to New Zealand. While they were in quarantine in New Zealand, the Samoan government took the step of closing its borders, meaning the team was trapped. On March 24 they announced that, from March 26, “all international travel to and from Samoa by plane is ceased”. The team was quarantined in New Zealand until March 30. 

"When we arrived in New Zealand it was summer," the team's video analyst Hari Junior Narayan told the BBC. "When we left it was winter."

The team was forced to share a tiny facility until the Samoan government relaxed the rules, with all players sleeping in one large room and management sleeping separately in smaller rooms.

To maintain team morale, they played bingo every night, turned the living room of the facility into a gym and cooked using traditional Samoan ovens known as ‘umus’.

"We were in a compound, you see the same people every day," team manager Tuala Pat Leota told the BBC. "I imagine this is what a prisoner feels like."

Despite New Zealand lifting its lockdown in April, it was not until last week that the team were allowed to fly home. Even then on their return, the Samoan government mandated they self-isolate for a further 14 days, meaning the players could no longer spend time with each other, nor go home and see their families.

“We were like a family there,” McFarland said. “I think that made it easier for us, but now I've got no-one! Now I wake up and…it feels crazy, it's just me.”

In a week’s time, the squad will finally be allowed to return home and see their loved ones for the first time since February. Worse still, the epic journey was all but in vain, as they lost the match in Perth by 25 points all those months ago.