Rugby World Cup Profile: Samoa

Date published: September 1 2015

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With the 2015 Rugby World Cup now just days away, we take a closer look at each of the competing nations. Next up…

SAMOA

Nickname: Manu Samoa

World Cup track record: After controversially not getting invited to the very first World Cup, Samoa, or Western Samoa as they were known then, were one of the highlights of the 1991 World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals with a win over Wales along the way. They beat the Welsh again eight years later, making it out of the group stages in each of their first three participations in the tournament. They haven't done so again but performed admirably in the group stages in 2003 and 2011.

1987: Not invited
1991: Quarter-finals
1995: Quarter-finals
1999: Quarter-final play-offs
2003: Pool Phase
2007: Pool Phase
2011: Pool Phase

2011 World Cup: It was a case of so near and yet so far for Samoa in 2011, as they went down narrowly to both South Africa and Wales finishing third in their pool. Against the Welsh, they were level heading into the last quarter of an hour, before Shane Williams' try proved the difference, while they lost 13-5 to South Africa, finishing the game with 14 men after Paul Williams' red card. Samoa had to cope with a tougher schedule than their pool rivals, playing the two big guns with four and five days rest respectively.

World Cup Stats: P24, W11, D0, L13

– Most RWC appearances: Brian Lima (18)
– Most appearances: Brian Lima (64)
– Top RWC points scorer: Silao Leaegailesolo (42)
– Top points scorer: Earl Va'a (172)
– Top RWC try scorers: Brian Lima (10)
– Top try scorer: Brian Lima (29)

Form: 2015 kicked off with a bang for Samoa, as they hosted New Zealand for a Test match for the very first time. The All Blacks were pushed all the way before eventually running out 25-16 winners. Samoa have since beaten the USA and come from behind to draw with Fiji beforing losing to their Pacific rivals in the Pacific Nations Cup Final. They clashed with a star-studded Barbarians team at the Olympic Stadium in London in the tournament build up, but a red card to Kane Thompson in the opening minutes meant they eventaully lost 27-24.

Coach: Stephen Betham took over as Samoa coach in 2012, replacing Dicky Tafua, who had coached them at the last World Cup. Betham was not first choice for the job, but Australian Adrian Thompson withdrew. Prior to taking over, Betham had overseen the Samoa Sevens team, during their most successful-ever period. With him at the helm, they won the World Sevens Series for the very first time in 2010. Betham didn't make a huge impact as a player, featuring for the Samoan U-20s side before taking a step back from the game. However he has since gone onto enjoy a lot of success as a coach. 

Captain: Ofisa Treviranus was named Samoa skipper in 2015, replacing David Lemi, who captained them on their European Tour last November. A powerful back rower, Treviranus led the side for the first time in the historic clash with New Zealand. A former Samoa Sevens player, he has been at London Irish since 2011, having previously played for Connacht. He was part of the Samoan squad that competed at the 2011 World Cup, having made his debut two years earlier against Japan, while his brother Alapati Leiua is also a Samoan international.

Key players: Full-back Tim Nanai-Williams switched allegiances from New Zealand to Samoa thanks to the new Olympic loophole, making his Test debut against the All Blacks in 2015. A thrilling player to watch, Nanai-Williams provides plenty of versatility as he is able to play anywhere in the three-quarters, while his offloading and quick feet have made him a star in Super Rugby. Another key member of the backline will be scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i of Northampton. One of the standout players of the last World Cup, as well as Samoa's successful 2012 European Tour, Fotuali'i offers some real physicality and has a nose for the try-line, with five tries already at Test level.

Up front Bordeaux hooker Ole Avei will have a key role to play as he heads to his second World Cup. A dynamic runner with ball in hand, he is generally a reliable lineout thrower as well. Equally important will be Jack Lam, the former Hurricanes star who is an all-action player in the back row.

Profile: Known for many years as Western Samoa, they dropped the first part of their name in 1997 to become simply Samoa. One of the trio of major Pacific Island sides, Samoa had to wait until 1986 to play a tier one side, when Wales visited for a game. Samoa's position in the game has progressed greatly in the 30 years since, but in 1987 they were not invited to the World Cup. Their win over Wales in the 1991 Rugby World Cup really put them on the map, and in the same tournament they comfortably beat Argentina and only narrowly lost to eventual champions Australia.

The captain at that tournament was Peter Fatialofa, the legendary prop who passed away in 2013. 'Fats' as he was affectionately known, was one of the first New Zealand-based players to choose to play for Samoa, and led the way for many others in the years that followed.

While Samoa don't have the same Sevens history as Fiji, it is an area in which they have improved in recent years, notably claiming a first World Series crown in 2010. Over the last five years or so, Samoa have emerged as the dominant side in the Pacific Islands, establishing themselves comfortably in the top ten of World Rugby's Test rankings. 

A big reason for Samoa's success has been a hugely successful pack of forwards, including three-time Top 14 champion Census Johnston, arguably Samoa's greatest-ever tighthead prop. That has allowed Samoa to play more of an all-court game than Fiji in particular, and means they can compete with the more traditional nations who can't just target their set-piece.

The current team is packed with talent both up front and in the backline, but they have not been as impressive as they were a couple of years ago, when they beat Scotland and Italy, six months after knocking off Wales in Cardiff. The front row in particular is a concern, with Johnston now retired from Test rugby, while his younger brother and replacement, James, has struggled for form.

The arrival of some more Super Rugby regulars, including Nanai-Williams, should help stop the decline, but it is up front that Samoa's hopes will rest.

Prospects in 2015: An intriguing group which should be dominated by South Africa. Samoa are the second highest ranked team, but won't have it easy against USA, Japan or Scotland. It's difficult to read exactly what form they are in, but they should get out of the group where they will likely struggle against the runner-up in Pool A.

Fixtures:

20 Sep – 12:00 v USA, Brighton
26 Sep – 16:45 v South Africa, Birmingham
3 Oct – 14:30 v Japan, Milton Keynes
10 Oct – 14:30 v Scotland, Newcastle

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