Manu Samoa, the tenth-ranked IRB nation, recently sent shockwaves through the rugby world with an utterly convincing win over the second-ranked Australians.
The side, marshaled by dynamic Crusader’s halfback Kahn Fotuali’i, is a world-class unit that combines the qualities of raw power and unbridled flare that has characterized Pacific rugby for decades.
This time, though, maturity, accuracy and composure are in the mix.
Samoa’s squad harbors potent firepower, including winger Alesana Tuilagi, who steamrolled a quality Wallaby opposition involving Red’s dynamite Digby Ioane. Alesana is the older brother of Manu Tuilagi, who has been named for England in jersey 13 for the pinnacle tournament.
Head coach Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua has done a sterling job in uniting his team of overseas-based players.
One can only imagine the threat Samoa would pose, if their full complement could also comprise of Samoan stock that have previously been capped by other nations, but for that reason, are subsequently ruled ineligible for their homeland.
Looking towards the Rugby World Cup then, now a matter of days away, this team hailing from the western-most parts of the Samoan Islands, is poised to inflict some serious damage in their pool and into the final rounds en route to their desired destination at Eden Park.
Notably, 30 minutes south of the Rugby World Cup headquarters is the de facto heart of the Pacific nations, which is Otara and the surrounding suburbs of South Auckland.
This means, the players will be as comfortable in this setting as they would on the streets of Apia, thus eliminating any geographical trepidation. It is a competitive edge against foes travelling from much farther afield.
Samoa is housed in Rugby World Cup’s Pool D, and open their campaign against Namibia on September 14 in Rotorua. They then face:
– Wales: September 18 at Hamilton
– Fiji: September 25 at Auckland
– South Africa: September 30 at Auckland
Clearly, the lead contender in this Pool are defending champions South Africa.
However, based on present form, which includes two defeats against the Wallaby side Samoa beat, the Pacific warriors will be eyeing their first ever victory over the mighty Springboks in a rivalry that records six defeats from six matches.
Look then to Wales, a nation the Samoans have battled also on six previous occasions, for which they have secured three victories. A 50-50 split is incentive enough for the Pacific nation to go one-up on the Welsh.
Fiji represent a genuine threat based on a history of fierce rivalry, that for Samoa, records 15 wins, 3 draws and 25 losses from 43 matches.
In saying that, momentum and focus are Samoa’s friends against a Fijian XV suffering political and economic upheaval.
Theoretically, should Samoa secure a first ever victory over the Springboks, they would finish on top of their pool and likely face Ireland in a thoroughly winnable quarter-final.
However, a second-placing in their pool would likely force a rematch against the Wallabies.
A quarter-final victory for the Samoans, will see them pitched against a team derived from Pools A and B, which include New Zealand, France, England, Scotland and Argentina.
Historically, the farthest Samoa has advanced in a Rugby World Cup is to the quarter-final stage.
In 1991, Samoa was defeated by Scotland 6-28 at Murrayfield Stadium. Scotland would also be the exit-point for the Samoans in 1999 via a quarter-final playoff, which they lost 20-35.
1995 was the other quarter-final occasion in which the Pacific nation was bravely defeated by an inspired South African XV, 14-42 at Ellis Park Johannesberg.
The same Springbok side would go on to hoist the Webb Ellis Trophy following an epic final victory over the All Blacks, 15-12.
Now, in the final countdown till Rugby World Cup 2011, builds a calm and menacing confidence in the Samoan camp ahead of another historic campaign.
And whilst New Zealand’s hopes are firmly fixed on the fortunes of our own First XV to quench 24 years of barrenness, hearts will also point fondly towards the plight of our brothers from the Pacific.