From Tokoroa to Sao Paulo: Brazilian women’s sevens rugby team head coach Reuben Samuels

By Tapatahi

Reuben Samuels has spent the past three years learning Portugese and coaching the Brazilian Women’s Sevens rugby team.

But he ended back here during lockdown where he was delighted to see his second son being born.

He’s hoping he can rejoin his team – still in lockdown in Sao Paulo – in August.

Tapatahi asked how a boy from Tokoroa ended up in Brazil.

“I think it was being from New Zealand, which is a rugby nation and it’s our national sport and being involved in with women’s rugby in Aotearoa for the past 10 years -and working with the Silver Ferns in 2015 helped as well.

“So having that background helped. I also wanted a challenge to step out of my comfort zone and learn a new language and get among the culture.

Aotearoa virtues

He’s been learning Portuguese:  “I wouldn’t say I am fluent. I can go get a feed, go to the supermarket and have a rugby conversation.”

The language and culture were the biggest challenges but he had expected that, he said.

 “In saying that, I think we’re very lucky here in Aotearoa. We grow up in an environment where we are connected to things. Aunties, uncles tell us to ‘get outside and make your own fun’, so we become quite creative.

“We take those lifelong lessons to another country and we lean on those things especially in times like Covid-19. It allowed me to step up and lead the girls in the team through this period.”

And, yes, he had been homesick at times: “My family is still here. My wife is here and my two boys are here. We made the best of the situation. We got to travel to many places when we were on the circuit but in terms of missing out on my boys it was hard.

Back in Brazil the team went into lockdown in Sao Paulo on March 10 “long before anything started here.

Lockdown luck

“It was still open but we thought, knowing the potential for the numbers to be quite high, quite fast over there, we decided to put our girls into lockdown as soon as possible and then I booked the first flight home to be with my family even though there was the possibility of having to go to Canada.”

Instead that meant he was here for the lockdown and ever since. The highlight of that time was being at the birth of his second child. “In a way that was a blessing in disguise. So it’s been cool and really awesome to be here.

But how’s the team?

He told Tapatahi  it was “still really bad there.”

“ Everything  there is political and reactive and we’ve tried to be proactive. So it’s been a long time for our girls. They’ve been in lockdown since March 13 and we’re envisaging getting together around August.

He said that was a long time stuck in lockdown and some of team members were from the favelas [slum neighbourhoods] in Sao Paulo “and the space they have is very limited and so there are different stresses that we probably haven’t had to experience in Aotearoa.”

Culture connection

Samuels has made sure his team has an Aotearoa connection. He brought the players back here after a trip to Dubai and South Africa.

“We got here in early December so they got to experience a New Zealand Christmas and New Year staying on local marae, eating our kai and so it was an enlightening experence for all of them.

“They’re quite detached from their culture, so giving them this experience really encouraged them to go back to Brazil and try to connect with things they haven’t been able to. 

He said being here, “experiencing whanau and the way we connect with each other” was really important for them. They even got a few ta mokos while they were here “and since going back have been delving into their own culture, which is really cool.”