Samoan rugby has been blighted by off the field scandals over the past few years. Although the effects of corruption are not totally behind them, the rugby team is desperate to ‘set things right’ and make this Samoa Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan, their most successful ever.
Continuing the tier two series, David Challis will look at Samoa’s chances on the field at the Rugby World Cup as well as how they can improve going forward.
Samoa’s Rugby World Cup history
Samoa has been a staple of World Rugby narrative for decades. An exciting and naturally skilled rugby-nation, with a long history at the pinnacle event of the World Cup.
Samoa has appeared in every Rugby World Cup, aside from the first tournament held in 1987. Over this period, Manu Samoa was a serious contender in the first three tournaments. They advanced beyond the pools in 1991, 1995 and 1999; demonstrating that they were a team to reckon with.
However, as professionalism came into force across the rugby world, Samoan rugby suffered. Unable to compete with the big money contracts across the globe the national team has been unable to keep up. As a result, their performances at Rugby World Cups have taken a slow downturn.
Samoa’s Greatest Rugby World Cup Moment
Of the three times Samoa qualified out of their group the most impressive of these came in 1999. With professionalism still in its infancy, Samoa could still compete at the Rugby World Cup. Their group contained Argentina, Wales and Japan and if it were not for an inferior points difference Samoa would have qualified as group winners.
Stirring performances from Samoan legends such as Pat Lam and Silao Leaega gained them a famous 38-31 victory over Wales. They then fell just short in a very entertaining game against Scotland in the next round.
Samoa’s Form going into the Rugby World Cup
Samoa has had little to shout about in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup. In the Pacific Nations Cup they struggled somewhat and only were able to find the solitary win. However, this was more an opportunity for coach Steve Jackson to test out his squad.
In their most recent test against Australia they were competitive for long periods but ultimately were comfortably beaten. These performances have shown that Samoa has the talent to mix it with the best but consistency and continuity will be their main issues come Japan.
3 Key Players to Watch
Chris Vui Vui has shot into the minds of Premiership rugby fans this season with his performances for Bristol this year. As Samoa’s young captain he has garnered praise from all quarters and he will be a real handful for all during the Rugby World Cup.
Nanai-Williams has the potential the be one of the most talked-about players at the Rugby World Cup for Samoa. He is pure electricity in attack and can unlock a defence from anywhere. Defenders beware because Nanai-Williams could make a few established names look very foolish.
Amosa embodies what people imagine when thinking of Samoan Rugby. He carries incredibly hard and has immense power to go with it. He only recently made his debut for the national side so this could be a real breakout year for the young number 8.
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Jack Lam has Samoan rugby running through his veins. He has been mightily impressive for Bristol this year and will bring a steely edge to this Samoan side as well as excellent leadership capabilities.
Predicting Samoa in the Pool
Pool A is genuinely very open and probably the most likely location of any upset. Samoa quite an unknown quantity and are likely to blow hot and cold during the tournament. This means if they catch the right opposition at the right time they could cause some real damage.
Scotland and Ireland are going to be big tasks but an upset should not be totally discounted. Japan vs Samoa could be one of the games of the group stages. Russia should provide a comfortable win for Samoa and they should not be written off before they arrive in Japan.
Going beyond the World Cup
Clearly a lot of work needs to be done to help fix Samoan rugby. Off the field, corruption is still present in the Samoan Rugby Union and they are not the best-funded to start with.
The other issues lie in the nature of Pacific Island Rugby. Samoa has played approximately half the number of Tests compared to tier one European nations in the Rugby World Cup cycle. They also have an issue with the consistency of selection meaning that they can rarely develop a squad.
However, Samoa is used to punching above their weight and have the raw building blocks to cause real damage. If the playing field can be leveled somewhat we could see Samoa return to former glories.
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