TOKYO, 13 Oct - Ahead of the Rugby World Cup, Samoa's players and coaches said they were hoping to win the whole tournament – or at least to make it into the quarter-finals for the first time since 1995. Pool A proved too tough, however, and after a win against its only lower-ranked team, Russia, Samoa failed to upset any of Scotland, Japan or Ireland.
"It's been a tough one. We came out with high hopes, hoping to shock the world, and we came out short," said second-row Filo Paulo, pictured above.
Vaeluaga Steve Jackson did what he could with the players available for selection when many chose to stay with their club teams. He then also had to play without centre Rey Lee-Lo, hooker Motu Matu'u and number eight Afaesetiti Amosa after the first match against Russia. Amosa left Japan with a knee ligament injury while Lee-Lo and Matu'u received yellow cards that in hearings after the match resulted in suspensions.
Those problems disrupted the coaching team's preparations in the week leading up to the Scotland game, which Samoa lost 34-0. The coaches said they did not feel they needed to change anything in the way their players tackled, but a final tally of six yellow cards and one red, with two players suspended, proved costly. After the Rugby World Cup, Jackson and assistant coach Al Rogers will have a few weeks of discussions with the Samoa Rugby Union to decide whether to stay on.
Player of the tournament
Samoa were on the defensive for most of their campaign, and TJ Ioane played a big part in pushing the opponents away. The 30-year-old back-row made 67 tackles and along with Kane Le'aupepe and Chris Vui, played a big part in keeping the score down.
Memorable moment off the pitch
There were plenty, thanks to Samoa's constant singing and dancing no matter what the results have been. Fly-half AJ Alatimu played a big part in the squad by entertaining the team to and from training, holding dance-offs on the bus as well as being responsible for cutting his team-mates' hair.
"We take our speakers and then play whatever song that comes up and we just pick up whoever to dance," Alatimu said. "It's a bit mixed. Samoan music, a bit of hip hop, some Jason Derulo, Justin Bieber and throwing some Beyonce in there, too. It's good, just to get the boys up and pumping for the gym."
Memorable moment on the pitch
A big turning point in the Russia game: Samoa had been struggling in the first half and were down 6-5 when number eight Afaesetiti Amosa broke through the defence and scored a try on his World Cup debut. Amosa had been keeping a diary every day since joining the team for preparations in Japan to be able to tell his son, due in January 2020, about his experiences on and off the field. Sadly, just before he crossed the try line, Amosa was tackled by Kirill Gotovtsev, injuring his knee so badly he had to leave the World Cup with a rupture of his MCL (medial collateral ligament) the next day. Amosa's try, however, turned the Russia game around, Samoa scoring 14 points when Gotovtsev was in the sin-bin, bagging the team's only victory in Japan.
Rugby World Cup 2019 could be the last international appearance for a handful of Samoa players over 30. Perhaps especially for Tusi Pisi, who will be 41 at the next World Cup. The team will split up, and some are hoping to find a new club, such as second-row Filo Paulo, back-row Jack Lam and scrum-half Dwayne Polataivao. Keen on returning to Japan, scrum-half Melani Matavao and wing Belgium Tuatagaloa will lose a couple of kilos and join the Samoa sevens team as they try to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games later this year.
Quote of the tournament from the head coach
"You just have to hear the music and the singing on our bus rides, that's different. I've never experienced anything like this in my life or in my coaching career. It's just the old traditions that this team has and the way they go about things. We've got a great culture in our team." - Vaeluaga Steve Jackson
Quote of the tournament from a player
"Rugby is a team sport, so if you know your brother is there next to you, supporting you, or just checking up on you, saying 'are you all right, brother? I'm here to talk to you', then that could turn life around for someone. It's a chain effect." - Back-rower Piula Fasalele on the importance of leaving macho stereotypes aside and talking about mental health in rugby.
How did they do? Tournament results
Beat Russia 34-9
Lost to Scotland 34-0
Lost to Japan 38-19
Lost to Ireland 47-5
Samoa by numbers
1 - times in Rugby World Cup history have Samoa failed to score in a game; in their 34-0 defeat by Scotland.
6 - yellow cards for Samoa, which is twice as many as any other team.
9 - penalty tries that Samoa have conceded at the Rugby World Cup, more than any other team in RWC history.
19 - points scored by centre Henry Taefu against Japan. Before that match, he had only scored three points in his test career.
578 - tackles made by Samoa, one of the top three totals for any team in the pool stages. TJ Ioane tops the individual chart at 67.