Rugby World Cup 2019: Samoa team guide | Sport

To say Samoa have struggled on the international stage since the last World Cup would be kind. The proud rugby nation (one in 17 local citizens are registered players) now sits 16th in the World Rugby rankings, just ahead of Spain. The Manu haven’t beaten a Tier 1 nation since June 2014 (a 15-0 win over Italy at Apia Park), and the match against the Wallabies this month was one of only six games against Tier 1 sides this World Cup cycle.

They are up to their third coach in as many years, following the resignation of Namulauulu Alama Ieremia (who has gone on to revitalise Auckland Rugby in New Zealand), and the sacking of local legend Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua (who sneaked the Manu into the World Cup with a qualifying play-off win over Germany). It turned out that Tafua’s hiring contravened World Rugby processes, and when the global body said they would pull the plug on funding, the Samoa Rugby Union effectively had no choice but to terminate his contract. The whole saga has played out in court over the past 12 months and overshadowed the appointment of current Kiwi coach Vaeluagaomatagi Steve Jackson.

Samoa have had two wins from seven Tests in the Jackson era, and though they have looked a bit better than that record suggests, each performance without a result adds to an ugly record.

As usual, recruitment has been paramount and Samoa had a rare win with the acquisition of the Crusaders prop Michael Alaalatoa, previously linked with both the Wallabies and the All Blacks. However Jackson would have loved to call on uncapped players such as the Leicester-bound Jordan Taufua, and the Worcester pair of Michael Fatialofa and Melani Nanai, all of whom have opted against joining the Manu campaign to concentrate on their clubs.

But who could blame them, when the Manu player wages for the recent Pacific Nations Cup worked out at around £50 per day? Although professionalism has decimated Samoa’s ability to compete at the game’s highest level, and the chasm between rugby’s haves and have-nots is only growing wider, at least Jackson can take solace in the fact that each of his players would do anything for that blue jersey.

At their best, Samoa play with irrepressible passion and flair, and they might just be confident of shocking the world for their first World Cup quarter-final berth since 1995. While a win over tournament heavyweights Ireland appears a bridge too far, Samoa may back themselves to upset Scotland, who they beat in 2013 before losses by a total of nine points in 2015 and 2017.

However, hosts and Pacific Nations Cup champions Japan are among the strongest third seeds in the tournament, so if anyone can crash the Tier 1 quarter-final party it’s probably the Brave Blossoms. Don’t rule out a slip-up against Russia in Samoa’s tournament opener either.

• Thomas Airey is a sports reporter for the Samoa Observer

Source link