Group D Opposition: South Africa, Wales, Fiji, Namibia
Pedigree: Samoa (as Western Samoa) were the first of the so-called Tier 2 nations to shock a big gun – beating Wales in 1991. Thay have a proud record, making 2 quarter-finals and one quarter-final play-off (in 1999, the stage where Ireland tried a 14 man lineout against Argentina). Recent editions haven’t been as happy – 2007 was their worst tournament to date, with only one win – and they finished as the lowest ranked Pacific team.
Players to watch: The entire team bristles with power, pace and no little footballing skills. For some reason, players who spend their Premiership careers aiming for contact become skilled steppers in their national shirt. like Ooooooooohh Seilala Mapasua – you won’t see pointless knock-ons like you do in Reading. Ooooooooohh Alesana Tuilagi made the WoC HEC Team of the Year, and deservedly so – he gave the Leinster defence more problems that any other player, except (bizarrely) Ooooooooohh James Downey. The era of Pacific packs being shunted around the place are long gone – formidable technicians who love the set piece have emerged, the best of which is Toulouse man-mountain and Iskanders fan Ooooooooohh Census Johnston.
Bad tournament: Not getting out of the group – it’s going to be doggedly competitive, but expectations have been raised by recent results.
Prospects: Samoa are a proud rugby nation, and bring real personality and charm to the tournament. The innate physical strength and handling skills of the Samoans have been honed at Sevens level, and for a country with less people than Cork, they punch way above their weight.
The virtual wipeout in 2007 was a huge disappointment in Samoa, and being usurped by Fiji and Tonga even more so, especially given the quality of the squad. Post-2009, the IRB formally included Pacific teams in the international schedule, giving the islands a chance to re-connect with players in Europe, and build between tournaments. In Samoa’s case, this seemed to herald the development of a low-risk percentage game utterly different to tradition.
The tours to the Northern Hemisphere in 2009 and 2010 featured grinding defeats to Ireland, England, Scotland & Wales without the pyrotechnics and running from everywhere expected. A slight suspicion Samoa were developing a backbone of steel was confirmed in Sydney last month, when Australia were downed 32-23 in a game Samoa dominated, both at the breakdown and in line breaks – Matt Giteau certainly won’t forget it in a while, given he has been cast aside as a result.
The draw for this tournament is a little tricky for Samoa – while Wales haven’t beaten them in World Cups, South Africa have beaten them by 50 points in the last two editions, and Fiji have won 5 of the last 7 against Samoa, dating back to 2005. The team have had more time in camp than any previous tournament, and should show well, but the win over the Wallabies may have done more harm than good to their aspirations in New Zealand.
Verdict: They won’t get near the Boks, so it’s going to come down to a three team mini-league with Wales and Fiji. One win is probable, but not two – they are likely to be squeezed out in the group stage for the third tournament running, although they will certainly light it up, and might even make a tackle below the shoulders.