Rugby World Cup Pedigree:
Having attended all but the first Rugby World Cup, the hard-hitting Samoans have made an impact on the competition and are regarded as one of the favourites by neutrals watching the event for their passion and style of rugby. However since the age of professionalism their stature has waned slightly but the style still remains. Their biggest result this year came against the second favourites for this year’s tournament: Australia, beating them 32-23 in Sydney. The highest ranked of the Pacific Islanders in this year’s event, they will be hoping to get out of the “Pool of Death”, Pool D, and into the knock out stages for the first time since their quarter final play off in 1999.
The fact that they haven’t got past the pool stages since 2003 is not the whole story when it comes to Samoa. In Australia, they gave eventual champions England a scare in their pool match, the score ending 35-22. At the 2007 event, Samoa narrowly lost to fellow Pacific Islanders Tonga 15-19, causing them to finish a disappointing fourth in the pool, having only beaten the USA. This year they will want to emulate their first two World Cups by making it out of the pool stage.
Best Rugby World Cup moment:
In their first World Cup, in 1991, Western Samoa managed to surprise one of the co-hosts, Wales in their opening game of the pool stages. In a closely fought battle, and with a Matthew Vaea penalty separating the two sides, Western Samoa managed to seal victory 16-13. A 9-3 loss to eventual champions Australia and a 35-12 win over Argentina sealed Samoa’s spot in the quarter finals at the first time of asking.
Biggest Rugby World Cup win: 60-13 v Uruguay (October 15, 2003)
Biggest Rugby World Cup defeat: 59-7 v South Africa (September 9, 2007)
Key player: Mahonri Schwalger
Samoa’s captain, Mahonri Schwalger, is a talismanic figure who leads his team in a way that they play for each other, and he leads from the front. The hooker, who turns 33 during the competition, has experience of playing in both the Northern Hemisphere, where he has played for the Scarlets and Sale Sharks, and in the Southern Hemisphere as he is currently at the Super 15 franchise the Highlanders. This wealth of experience should put him in good stead to combine his playing ability with his rugby knowledge.
One to watch: Kahn Fotuali’i
Kahn Fotuali’i is a great prospect at scrum half, and has had past experience of playing in New Zealand. His running game is what stands out from the rest while his passing is clean and efficient, working well with Tusi Pisi. He’s had an injury plagued season and strong competition from Andy Ellis for the number 9 jersey for this year’s Super 15 runners up, the Crusaders, but with Samoa he’s their number one.
Rugby World Cup Fixtures:
v Namibia (September 14, 03:30)
v Wales (September 18, 04:30)
v Fiji (September 25, 03:30)
v South Africa (September 30, 08:30)
It has to be the clashes against Wales and Fiji. Both are extremely important games that Samoa need to win if they want to progress out of the pool stages. Wales have shown signs of improvement, as have Fiji, so they will be tough tests for Samoa.
Odds: At 250/1 to win outright and 9/2 to come second in their pool, Samoa could be worth a cheeky flutter.
Samoa coach Dickie Tafua says:
“Our goal is to qualify through to the quarter-finals. For that we will have to go step by step. Every match is crucial, as every opponent will be very hard. We will take each game as it comes… one by one.”
Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger says:
“In 2003 we came very close to beating England and South Africa and in 2007 we also had some very good moments of rugby. But there it was very hard to lose to Tonga. We have great respect for every team and don’t want to lose, but that game was something that really hurt.”
It’s going to be a tough one, but I reckon they can get out of the “Pool of Death”. There may be issues over stamina and preparation but this Samoa side has the passion and determination that a side needs to go far in the competition.
Position: 2nd in the pool, out at the quarters.