Samoa set out on road to 2011 World Cup
It may be less than a week since Samoa confirmed their place at Rugby World Cup 2011 with a 188-19 aggregate victory over Papua New Guinea, but thoughts have already turned to their end of year tour.
Samoa triumphed 115-7 at home in Apia and then 73-12 in Port Moresby to book their place at the tournament in New Zealand, where they will be bidding to right the wrongs of 2007. In France they failed to attain the high standards they set themselves and lost against rivals Tonga, leaving them with a fourth place finish in their pool and needing to qualify for the 2011 event.
Having booked their place in New Zealand, they will now want to build momentum towards the showpiece event and that process starts this autumn against Wales, a side they will meet in Pool D at RWC 2011 and against whom they hold a proud record in World Cups.
In 1991, playing as Western Samoa, they stunned the Welsh in Cardiff with a 16-13 win en route to the quarter finals and eight years later defeated the tournament hosts 38-31 at the Millennium Stadium.
Matthew Vaea was part of that victorious side at Rugby World Cup 1991 and the former scrum half is now Samoa's team manager. He is hoping that history can repeat itself in 2011, when the islanders will also face defending champions South Africa, Fiji and the Africa 1 qualifier.
"Our next appointment is the northern hemisphere tour, which involves Wales, France and Italy in November," explained Vaea. "In between we have obviously got a lot of work to do in terms of preparation for 2011.
"There is a lot of preparation in Samoa and also trying to get our squad, our wider squad who are all over the globe in Europe and Japan, New Zealand and Australia, so there is a lot of admin work to be done before that tour.
Million dollar question
Vaea played eight tests between 1991 and 1995, so knows the importance of Samoa's end of season tour, when they will also face France and Italy in their steady build-up to World Cup.
"The tour is going to be important for us in terms of blooding in our squad for 2011, so we are looking forward to that. The boys will deserve a break now [after qualifying], but we have got a lot of background work to do."
Bringing together their players from around the world, and getting preparation time as a whole squad, remains 'a challenge' but one that Vaea and Samoa have been working hard to resolve in order to give themselves the best possible chance of creating another upset or two in 2011.
"It is the million dollar question [how difficult it is to get players together]," added Vaea. "It is hard in a sense that we get them from different playing styles, we get them from different atmospheres.
"It is also difficult when you have them for a short amount of time in terms of preparation before Test matches when you compare it to the Tier 1 nations New Zealand, Australia and the rest where you normally have those players in your domestic competition, whereas we don't have that luxury.
"Preparation time for us has always been a challenge but we manage - it is nothing new for us. We just try and negotiate and work with the overseas clubs so we can get a little bit more buy in in terms of time."