Key Clash Preview and Prediction: Ireland v Samoa

Ireland face Samoa for the sixth time on Saturday evening in a game which marks Joe Schmidt’s long awaited first fixture as Ireland head coach. Their previous five meetings favour an Irish victory at the Aviva with Ireland winning four of those games including their most recent fixture in 2010. Of that game, Declan Kidney said ‘it was a bit of an arm wrestle’ on the day, a dangerous proposition against the powerful Samoans. The one exception in the history of the fixture finished 25-40 to Samoa at the old Lansdowne Rd back in 1996, a game which rightly embarrassed Ireland at the time.

There would be no such embarrassment if Ireland were on the wrong side of the result on Saturday. Samoa are 7th in the World rankings, currently one place above Ireland, and deservedly so having picked up wins against Australia, Italy, Scotland and Wales in the past two seasons. They’re targeting Ireland next, and you can bet your last euro, pound or Samoan tala they’ll not be daunted by facing an Irish team which has hardly impressed in 2013 thus far.

There’s no doubt it’s an awkward beginning to the Schmidt era. Samoan sides are traditionally a unique blend of power, with added power. A tough opponent at the best of times, but they’ve become more tactically aware with the right structures in place in recent seasons earning them a genuine claim to be a top-tier nation. It’s also worth mentioning the sad loss of Peter ‘Fats’ Fatialofa during the week, the legendary captain of Manu Samoa most famous for leading the Pacific nation in the 1991 RWC when they beat Wales. With emotions high in the Samoan camp, you have a recipe for an extraordinarily motivated side which, to a man, will do their utmost to honour a popular figure in the game with a win in Dublin this weekend.


Jamie Heaslip skippers Ireland in this game but it was O’Connell who was named Joe Schmidt’s captain for the season, he takes his place on bench. Jack McGrath receives a first cap at loosehead, with Devin Toner’s superb early season form earning him a spot beside Mike McCarthy in the second row. Chris Henry wears no.7 with Sean O’Brien held back on the bench alongside fellow Lions tourists O’Connell and Cian Healy. At 10, Paddy Jackson deservedly deputises for Jonathan Sexton who isn’t risked because of a hip complaint. Dave Kearney will hope to make his debut off the bench after Fergus McFadden was preferred on the left wing.

Joe Schmidt was never expected to ring the changes; most of the side picks itself but the non-selection of Luke Marshall is perhaps one sticking point for those who enjoy a debate. Most important, alongside winning, for Irish fans will be evidence of Joe Schmidt’s positive influence on the team after a couple of frustrating years watching 8-men rucks and a faltering set-piece.


Has a Samoan squad ever seemed so familiar? That’s a consequence of both their international achievements and more individuals impressing in the European club game. Kahn Fotuali’i, formerly of Ospreys and now at Northampton Saints, and Tusi Pisi are match winning half-backs of the highest quality. David Lemi has been ruled out of the tour with a shoulder injury, leaving Fotuali’i to captain the side.

Traditionally Samoa bring a physical set of forwards and this touring squad are no different, being well equipped in the front row is a given for them with Census Johnston (Toulouse), James Johnston (Saracens) and Logovi’i Mulipola, a Leicester Tigers try scorer against Ulster earlier in the season, comfortably the match of any international props, which may be a concern for Ireland with McGrath making debut at this level. Census may be missing, but the others will give the Irish front row a stern examination.

All Eyes On

With Jonathan Sexton having to wait until next week to return, Paddy Jackson starts at 10 and will assume place kicking duties. The youngster has had a turbulent beginning to his international career but an impressive start to the season with Ulster coupled with Ian Madigan unexpectedly playing second fiddle to Jimmy Gopperth at Leinster, means Jackson is given another opportunity. There’s no doubting his ability, and some mature performances, notably back to back versus Leicester and Montpellier, this season suggest he might be ready to take the next step.

He may not have hit the heights of his time at the Ospreys since moving to the Saints, but there’s no doubting that Kahn Fotuali’i is a world-class player. Fotuali’i captains the side this weekend, in the absence of David Lemi and Paul Williams, and without those two, as well as other experienced players like Daniel Leo and Census Johnstone, he will play a big leadership role. He is capable of magic and loves a snipe around the side of a ruck, so Ireland’s fringe defence will have to be on the money.

Head to head: Brian O’Driscoll v George Pisi

This will be an intriguing battle. O’Driscoll has not played a great deal of rugby this season, but will have to get up to speed fast if he is to deal with the Samoan powerhouse Pisi. The Northampton centre’s game is built around direct running lines and a superb offloading ability, but he also has an excellent sidestep and no small turn of pace. Of course, O’Driscoll is no stranger to high-class opponents, and has faced Pisi before in the Leinster v Northampton fixtures down the years. He may not possess the pace of old, but there are still few better at identifying space and exploiting it. His experience and leadership, along with Gordon D’Arcy, will also be vital with the inexperienced Paddy Jackson inside him.


Ireland will be desperate to start the Joe Schmidt era with a win. It probably won’t be easy viewing, in fact I would expect a tense finish and few nervy moments against arguably the best Samoan side we’ve seen in the professional era but Ireland’s firepower off the bench in the closing stages should see them close out a hard fought victory by 7-10 points. In particular, Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy could be crucial introductions around the hour mark.

By David Blair (@viscout_dave)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

12 thoughts on “Key Clash Preview and Prediction: Ireland v Samoa

  1. I’ll have to go with what I’ve been saying since the WC, Samoa will win this one. Interesting to see Schmidt putting guys like O’Brien and Healy on the bench – tactical switch genius or liable to get the Samoans even more riled up to due to a perceived lack of respect?

    While Leinster/Ulster have been going great domestically I can’t help but think that for both of those teams their best players have come from the southern hemi (before I draw the ire of the Irish internet police please note that this is me saying that Ruan Pienarr for example is one of the best players in the world, it’s not the same as saying Irish players are crap – add Kirshner, Payne, etc.) – without those, without Sexton, with a Samoa side intent on gunning down all of the NH nations in turn … I reckon Samoan power and the new found structure and threat in their backline will get them a win by a few points.

    1. I am going to bite. As there is something that grinds me.

      Leinster- Zane kitcher has played one game for Leinster so that is hardly a prevalent example. There is another foreign player of note. So extremely harsh to say that their form is based on foreign players. In fact, it is wrong to say.

      Ulster- last year I would have undoubtedly agreed with you and elements of truth still remain. However, with ulster’s Irish contingent out last week, Ruan and co were terrible in a loss to Llanelli. Pinear has been less influential than Jackson this year I believe and that showed. Payne is a masterclass and he will become naturalised soon. Afoa has played second fiddle to Fitzpatrick and touhy has out shine muller.

      The foreign contingent are important just like samoas scrummy was to ospreys (in fact their best player). But to Ireland’s failings over previous years are not down to foreign incursion (except maybe at prop) have been down to poor selection and succession planning.

      1. To single out Ulster as one example, their XV against The Blues

        (15-9): S Olding, A Trimble, J Payne, L Marshall, T Bowe, P Jackson, R Pienaar; (1-8): C Black, R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (Captain), D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, R Wilson

        Their best players on that night as I saw it

        Payne, Pienaar, Trimble, Afoa, Muller, Best, Diack, Henry, Wilson

        That’s 5 out of the 9 most influential players I saw that night are overseas. Payne being naturalised at some point in the future does not change the fact that Ulster’s overseas signings are key for their success. Something not unique to them.

        Where you and I will continue to differ is in drawing any sort of line from the above to Ireland’s relative (compared to regional sides) under achievement at national level. There we’re onto opinion and mine is that the Irish players are not as good as the players that outperform them e.g. some Welsh, some English and that their regional sides make up this difference with very careful overseas signings, some with an eye on “naturalisation” in the future.

        That’s why I think Samoa will win this one. Again though that’s an opinion, we’ll see tomorrow night.

        1. That example is quite damning and I did see your comments post game a few weeks ago. That was a strange one as all our imports were playing. Though not uncommon.

          I think Ireland have the ingredients to compete with England and Wales though I do admit that Wales are a stronger side currently. No doubt.

          I think with somoan injuries leading up to this one, we will win it.

      2. agree with the Kircnher point, the only reason deccie got game time at the start of the year was because Afoa was having his operation back home, I understand what Brightly is saying, as an ulster fan of our 4 best players in my opinion Pienaar, Payne, Afoa, Bowe (and Ferris whenever his knees half worked…) 3 are southern hemisphere born, I do still think Ireland should be fine in this game though, we have enough talent to win the match and game changers off the bench, the only disappointment for me in the selection is d’arcy over Marshall, if you neutralise the Samoans up front, and deprive them off the ball they’re incredibly ill-disciplined, I’d say Ireland by 8

    2. Hi Brighty. Better to keep your mouth shut and people think you’re stupid, than open it and people know it.. this may apply to u..

  2. Love the comment “Samoan sides are traditionally a unique blend of power, with added power” – made me chuckle out loud. Have to agree that the Samoan team have looked vastly improved in the last couple of years, and are, as always, going to physically challenge any side. Not sure that they have enough to beat Ireland at home, and reckon Ireland will probably win by a try (they don’t have the same issue with south sea islands that Wales have!), but the Irish will know they’ve been in a battle. How many of them will still be standing for next weekend?

  3. With only 1 week of prep and Samoa missing a number of key players (no Census Johnston, Maurie Fa’asavalu or Alesana Tuilagi) I can’t favour Samoa for this one. It’s still a world class halfback pairing though.

    Losing the father figure of Samoan rugby this week is going to make this an exceptionally painful experience for Ireland. A Samoan victory would be a fitting tribute, hopefully they can deliver it!

  4. Ireland has a few bought in players its not a problem! leinster have 15 12 10 and a lock that are not irish eligible, munster have a 3, 7, 13 and a newly arrived winger! ulster have john afoa, muller, pienaar, and payne. conacht have a few more but no world class bar their new lock, an ageing dan parks and a few others!

    ireland have turned a corner and this isn’t a problem anymore! got 3 quality tens if madigan was getting more game time!
    2 established tight heads and 2 young up and coming in hagan and moore!
    loose head isnt a problem at all
    locks is our biggest weakness but henderson is the future! and ryan is only 29 whats not ancient for a lock and always been a fan of touhy!
    back row is ridiculous wealth of riches! the established everyone knows then ryan ruddock murphy and the 7 at munster ( insert name here :/)
    9 marmion is going to be world class!
    centre is our biggest issue and at 13! fitz, bowe and henshaw are the only options at the moment!

    we might loose this game but 2015 world cup not saying we will win it but definately could get to the semis! looking forward to some efficient and exciting rugby!

    1. I’m very excited to see us as at the world cup, as you said we have some real up and coming talent, in-particularly in the back-row, my Ireland team for the world cup would be:
      1. C.Healy
      2. R.Best
      3. M.Moore (Hopefully if he continues developing as Ross will be 35)
      4. P.O’Connell
      5. I.Henderson
      6. S.O’Brien
      7. P.O’Mahony
      8. J.Heaslip
      9. C.Murray
      10. J.Sexton
      11. S.Zebo
      12. L.Marshall
      13. J.Payne (Could make the switch to replace Bod and he’s eligible by then)
      14. T.Bowe
      15. R.Kearney
      Ideally Ferris will be back by then though!

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