Tuesday 20 March 2018

Samoa to give it everything on highlight of tour

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

IF the Samoan team were looking for some old fashioned pre-match motivation, they didn't have to go far this week.

They didn't let on from their Killiney base, but their autumn tour dates could hardly have been more underwhelming for the side that have made bigger strides than most recently.

The last 12 months produced wins over Wales, Scotland and Italy, but they are fixed for just one Test against a top tier nation this autumn. To compound matters, that fixture with Ireland comes at the start of their tour and not at the end, when, having spent some time together, they are traditionally better.

After that they'll face the French Barbarians and Georgia with one absent player, Perpignan's Daniel Leo, taking to twitter to describe their lack of top quality opposition as a "travesty."

But the side ranked seventh in the world, one place above Ireland, and who haven't been given a fixture against the All Blacks since 2008, opted for diplomacy when asked about the level of the opponents afforded to them.

"We can't pick and chose the nations we play against," said captain and scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i.

"In an ideal world we would like to play against the tier one teams. To get better as a nation you need to play the best. But it's good for us to broaden our base and give other players a chance."

If they kept their counsel on that front, the visitors were more open on the sudden death of Samoan legend Peter 'Fats' Fatialofa.

The IRFU have agreed to a request for a minute's silence for the man who skippered his country to one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history when the islanders scalped Wales at the 1991 tournament in Arms Park.

"He is a household name. His loss is a great loss to rugby and to the nation and when the news arrived to our camp it was a shock. We are all very sad about it. We will be dedicating the game on Saturday to Peter's work not only for Samoa, but FOR rugby," said team manager Sami Leota.

That will surely add to their usual passion, but their chances of upsetting Joe Schmidt's first game in charge have taken a blow with their list of absentees.

Some of their more established players such as Paul Williams (Stade de France), Census Johnston (Toulouse), Maurie Fa'asavalu (Harlequins), David Lemi (Worcester Warriors) and Leo are all out through injury. Others like Seilala Mapusua and Alesana Tuilagi aren't on tour, with the next three weeks being used to blood new players.

"At the moment, we are building to the World Cup and we have decided that, in the first two years, we would broaden our base and then after that we'll know our 50 or 60 players that we'll concentrate on and that will be the group we will work with going towards the World Cup," coach Steven Betham said. "At the moment, we are giving everyone a fair run now. The door is not closed, this is the end of our two-year period, so we're giving others a chance.

They have won here before, back in 1996 when, like this tour, it was the highlight of a 10-game tour and the only full blown international.

"We are here to compete, we will try to give the Irish a good game," Betham asserted. "It won't be easy. We are confident in our preparation and we'll wait and see what happens on the day."

Irish Independent

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