RWC 2015 Draw Spotlight - Samoa
SAMOA ON THE RWC STAGE
Few people in Wales had heard of Western Samoa when they pitched up at Cardiff Arms Park for their opening Pool 3 match at Rugby World Cup 1991, which was jointly hosted by England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France.
But by the time the blue-shirted ‘minnows’ had announced themselves to the world by defeating the Welsh 16-13 in what ranks as one of the greatest shocks in World Cup history, an entire nation had been plunged headlong into mourning.
After failing to be invited to compete in the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, Western Samoa had been determined to make an impact. And it was Wales who felt the full force as tries from To’o Vaega and Sila Vaifale broke their hearts.
Even now, 21 years on, the names of Western Samoan legends trip off the tongue as if it were yesterday: Frank Bunce, Steve Bachop, Pat Lam, Apollo Perelini and Brian Lima, known as ‘The Chiropractor’ for his bone-jarring tackles.
It was some introduction to World Cup rugby, but Western Samoa proved it was no fluke by running eventual winners Australia close and then hammering Argentina 35-12 before falling to Scotland in a bruising quarter-final at Murrayfield.
With a reputation for hard-running, tough-tackling rugby established, Western Samoa again rampaged to the quarter-finals of Rugby World Cup 1995, defeating both Italy and Argentina and then giving England a hurry-up before losing 44-22.
There they lost 42-14 to the hosts and eventual winners South Africa, but in 1999 they were back to their giant-killing ways once more and again it was the unwitting Welsh who were the victims of a Millennium Stadium mugging in Cardiff.
Like the iconic venue, Western Samoa had themselves been renamed and were now simply Samoa. But it made no difference on the pitch as the Islanders, led by Lam, produced one of the great counter-attacking displays of all time.
Having beaten Japan but then lost to Argentina, Samoa knew only victory would suffice and in a thrilling performance they outscored Wales by five tries to three, the historic scores coming from Bachop (2), Silao Leaega, Lio Falaniko and Lam.
Hero status was immediately conferred on the gallant Samoans, who by now had the legendary Inga ‘The Winger’ Tuigamala amongst their ranks, along with hooker Trevor Leota and another highly rated flanker in Junior Paramore.
Victory carried Samoa into the knockout stages of a third successive World Cup, but again they failed to progress, losing 35-20 to Scotland in the quarter-final play-offs. Since then, Samoa have not been beyond the pool stages, which is somewhat surprising given the array of top class talent at their disposal.
At Rugby World Cup 2003, Samoa comfortably defeated both Uruguay and Georgia but were then beaten by Pool C favourites England and South Africa to finish third. And there followed a major disappointment in France four years later.
Arriving with high hopes after what appeared to be a good build-up and with a galaxy of top class European-based stars at their disposal such as Alesana Tuilagi, Seilala Mapusua, David Lemi, Census Johnston, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and the indestructible Lima, who was appearing at his fifth World Cup, the Samoans failed to fire a shot.
Thrashed 59-7 by South Africa in their opening match in Paris, Samoa’s qualification hopes were left in tatters after they suffered a humbling 19-15 loss to Pacific Island rivals Tonga before losing 44-22 to a struggling England side in Nantes.
A modicum of pride was salvaged when USA were defeated 25-21, but three losses in four matches represented Samoa’s worst World Cup showing to date.
Samoan hopes were again high ahead of last year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, but despite recording comfortable victories over Namibia and Fiji, a side led by the admirable Mahonri Schwalger again failed to venture beyond the pool stage.
Having fluffed their lines to lose 17-10 to Wales in Hamilton – a result that was celebrated with understandable gusto in the Valleys – Samoa had to beat South Africa in their final Pool D match in North Harbour to progress. But despite producing their best display in a World Cup match since 1999, they fell just short as the Springboks won 13-5.
Brian Lima became the first player to appear in five Rugby World Cups when he played against South Africa in Paris in RWC 2007. A debutant in Western Samoa’s historic 16-13 win over Wales in 1991, the hard-hitting back became a regular feature in the side and he went on to break the record for consecutive tournament appearances (16) during RWC 2003.
Such was the magnitude of their victory over Wales, try-scorer To’o Vaega commemorated Western Samoa’s success by later naming his newborn son Cardiff.
The result of Samoa’s opening match of RWC 2007 v South Africa could have been so different had Iosefa Fekori’s ‘try’ been allowed to stand at the start of the second half. A try and conversion then would have seen the sides separated by just seven points, instead the second row was penalised for being offside and Samoan heads dropped. The Springboks went on to score 38 unanswered points to win 59-7 and inflict on Samoa their heaviest defeat at a Rugby World Cup.
“It’s definitely the hardest tackle I’ve taken in my life but I’m still breathing and that’s a good sign.” -South Africa fly half Derick Hougaard on how lucky he is to be alive after receiving a thumping hit from Samoan hard-man Brian Lima.
Brotherly love was put to the test when Samoa’s Steve Bachop found himself up against brother Graeme, who was representing Japan, at Rugby World Cup 1999. Ironically the pair had also previously played together four times in international rugby in the mid-90s – for New Zealand. Sailosi (Samoa) and Michael Tagicakibau (Fiji) were due to follow suit at the last tournament in New Zealand, but Michael failed to pass a late fitness test ahead of the Eden Park clash between the two great rivals that ended in a 27-7 win for Samoa.