Focus on Samoa – Ireland and Scotland’s World Cup pool rivals in Japan

Charlie Talbot-Smith
02 August 2019

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When Ireland were drawn in their Rugby World Cup Pool alongside with Scotland, Samoa, Russia and hosts Japan – Jamie Heaslip could not resist a punch in the air.

The former Ireland No.8 clearly thought his side had been done a favour by the bouncing balls – but to underestimate Pool A would be foolish.

Both Ireland and Scotland will start as the favourites to progress but we need no reminding of Japan’s underdog credentials, and then there is Samoa.

They might not be the force of previous editions, but they pack a hefty punch and will be desperate to recreate their heroics of the past.

An opening win over Tonga in the Pacific Nations Cup last weekend re-emphasised their growing force and Ireland and Scotland will be paying close attention.

Main men

Before that win over Tonga, Manu Samoa were down at 16th in the world rankings but they are packed full of international quality.

The loss of Joe Tekori to retirement is a blow but his locking partner Chris Vui will carry much of their forward threat.

The Bristol Bear was in fine form in the English Premiership last season and will bring both experience and leadership to their pack effort alongside the sizeable form of Logovi’i Mulipola.

No.8 Afaeseti Amosa showed up well last weekend against Tonga and then there is skipper and hooker Motu Matu’u who hits almost as hard as the great Brian Lima.

Up front will be key for the Samoans to try and gain parity with their Tier One rivals.

Then behind the scrum, Alapati Leuia oozes class while the interestingly named Belgium Tuatagaloa also impressed last time out in tough conditions against Tonga.

PRO14 personnel

Guinness PRO14 fans will be keeping a close eye on the Samoan midfield where two Welsh-based stars will be hoping to have an impact.

Kieron Fonotia, Scarlets

 

Scarlets centre Kieron Fonotia and Cardiff Blues man Rey Lee-Lo are both proven operators and bring plenty of experience.

Fonotia – formerly of the Ospreys before swapping with Scott Williams last summer – is 31 now and is still in single figures for international caps.

He only made his debut two years ago but as a former Crusader, should bring his composure and fine distribution to the party in Japan.

Lee-Lo, at 33, has been around the block but has been making PRO14 defenders look silly alongside Willis Halaholo in the Blues midfield for a while now.

The Blues are one of the great entertainers in the league, and the former Hurricane and Crusader – he played alongside Fonotia in 2014 – is a key part of that.

Who’s in charge?

Former Auckland Blues assistant Steve Jackson is the man at the helm for Manu Samoa.

He took over last year and has an impressive CV after spells at both Counties Manukau and North Harbour.

The step up to international rugby has taken some getting used to, they slipped to defeats to both Fiji and Samoa last year in the South Pacific Championship.

But their World Cup spot was secured with 66-15 and 42-28 wins over Germany in the Europe/Oceania play-off qualifier before narrow autumn losses to USA and Georgia.

They ended on a high by downing Spain and will be out for revenge over Fiji this month, with a spring in their step after downing Tonga.

Jackson said: “Privileged is the word. To be a head coach again, for an international side and going to a World Cup, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Previous RWC runs

Samoa, by their own standards, have probably disappointed at the last two World Cups.

They failed to make it out of their Pool either time, despite an encouraging win in a warm-up over Australia in the 2011 tournament.

Indeed not since 1995 when Pat Lam and the boys shocked the world have a Samoa team made the quarter-finals.

In 1999 they beat Wales in pool play before missing out on the last eight but it is 1991 they are best remembered for.

Then competing as Western Samoa, they downed Wales in Cardiff and then Argentina on their way to the quarter finals.

Four years later in 1995 and again the Pumas were seen off, as were Italy.

2019 fixtures

As mentioned, USA are the opponents in Suva this coming weekend before they finish their Pacific Nations Cup campaign against Fiji.

Their World Cup campaign fixture list is structured kindly, they open against Russia and if they can get on a roll will fancy their chances against Scotland next.

Unlike previous editions, they do not have any hideous turnarounds between games, five days is their shortest between the Scotland and the Japan clashes before they finish a week later in Fukuoka against Ireland.

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