A NEW BEGINNING
A better build up and the eradication of a few off field problems should help Samoa.
Samoa have made huge progress off the field in recent months and that is expected to help the players finally get close to fulfilling their potential. GREGOR PAUL reports.
THEY ARRIVE IN ENGLAND AS..?
A more cohesive, better organised, better prepared, better managed side than they have been at any time in the last 24 years. And because of that, they arrive in England as a genuine dark horse with the capacity to reach the last eight and who knows...maybe even go beyond. With tests against the All Blacks and Barbarians before they arrive, they for once come to a World Cup match conditioned and may have a good idea of their best combinations and what type of rugby is going to work for them. They are, if nothing else, an intriguing prospect.
WHAT TYPE OF FOOTBALL WILL THEY PLAY?
Tough question to answer this. Ahead of the last World Cup the answer was simple: they would have been a run from everywhere team. But when they actually got to the tournament, they played more like England than Samoa with so much pick and go and conservative stuff. It didn’t suit them and the challenge in 2015 will be to find a happy medium. The Sevens-style football only gets them so far: but so too does the bash up the guts.
If they can add a bit of bite to their set piece and breakdown work; kick judiciously and expertly and retain their natural attacking instincts with ball in hand...then they could be deadly and hugely entertaining.
ARE THEY SUITABLY MOTIVATED?
When any Samoan sticks the test jersey on... they are motivated. As in...they are going to die for it. So yes...they are suitably motivated.
DO THEY HAVE ENOUGH PERSONNEL DEPTH?
Not to win the tournament, no. But they have enough to weather a natural cycle of injuries and progress to the quarterfinals. They are a little bit vulnerable at halfback and first-five and wouldn’t go to well if they lose either Kahn Fotuali’i or Tusi Pisi. But in the outside backs and loose forward they have the luxury of choice and just about enough big units in the tight five to scrape by.
CAN THEY COPE WITH THE PRESSURE?
In the past, they haven’t been too good under pressure. In 2011, playing South Africa, they lost their discipline at times when they had the Boks scrambling. It was much the same when they played Wales – they had the chance to strike a killer blow but they just couldn’t land it: little mistakes at critical times. Some of that could be put down to lack of game time together and lack of exposure to top class opponents in between World Cups. With most of their squad playing professionally somewhere in the world, they have enough experience of big time football to be relatively confident they will cope.
WHERE ARE THEIR WEAKNESSES?
Historically, they have been short of conditioning and a little careless/reckless in some of their one-on-one tackling. One of the sticks with which they have been beaten by the European clubs is that players return from Samoa test duty out of shape. Being able to go the full 80 minutes is imperative and Samoa have a few big boys who might be digging unbelievably deep to hang in there for the final 10 minutes. And when players are fatigued, that’s when mistakes are made and technique can be lazy.
WHAT ARE THEIR KEY STRENGTHS?
Rugby is essentially a game of pass, catch and run and the Samoans do all three particularly well. Their basic skills are polished and instinctive and the backline can cause some damage if it is given enough front-foot ball.
Samoa can score from anywhere and they can turn defence into attack about as well as any side in the world game. The destructive tackling that has become common across the globe – it was the Samoans who started and the Samoans who remain the best at it.
WHAT POTENTIAL PROBLEMS COULD THEY INCUR?
The big concern for Samoa is things turning to custard off the field. That’s what happened in 2011 – all sorts of nonsense was happening with management and it left the players in a horrible position. Whereas the established nations don’t have to worry about a single thing – they are well paid, they stay in good hotels, laundry is done, training is organised and all the kit turns up. For the Samoans, that rarely happens. They often have to fight for the basics and it can be draining and distracting.
DO THEY HAVE A STRONG ENOUGH LEADERSHIP TEAM?
They have a group of experienced, older players who have been around for long enough to make their voices heard and guide the next generation. What will have galvanised the players and given them confidence in their leadership, is the way they handled their stand off with the ruling body late last year. The players decided they’d had enough of being ripped off and abused so they stood firm and fought for a resolution which has enabled the whole of Samoan rugby to move forward.
POWER CU P: Samoa will be confrontational.
DODGE BALL: Tim Nanai-Williams is an elusive runner.