With 1991’s glory campaign history, statement needed to keep them on test radar

It's been a while, too long really since Samoa genuinely set the heart racing at a World Cup the way they did in 1991.

They have dined out on that campaign for too long. As magical and inspiring as it was, Samoa need a new World Cup chapter. And they must be a chance, there has to be, that they will write one at Villa Park.

No one gets to choose where and when defining moments occur, but Samoa can at least see they can choose to see the potential of making a little history in Birmingham.

What they know is this - South Africa lost to Japan in their opening game. What Samoa assume from that is that the Boks will respond in the only way they know how, to run harder and straighter: to be at their most intimidating and aggressive.


South Africa's coach Heyneke Meyer has laid those facts out, bare as you like. The go-to euphemism for him is "old school". In that he implies he's out of touch, mired in the past, wedded to a belief that what used to work still can. All of that, except him being out of touch, is probably true. He is wedded to the past, but has convinced himself that's because he's immersed himself in the present and failed to see why knocking lumps out of people all over the field can't actually be successful in the modern game.

"Whenever we are physical and play our style of rugby, nobody in the world can beat us," he said when he unveiled his team.

"That's what I try to get through to the players. We have to be leaders in our own field. We've won two World Cups and we can still win this one if we play South African rugby."

Samoa will of course disagree. They have to. Their World Cup campaign would benefit enormously from a victory over the Boks and not just because of where it would leave them in Pool B.

Japan have suddenly become the darlings of the rugby world. They have earned the right to be taken seriously, and behind their brave and innovative players lies the third largest economy in the world.

The attraction for Sanzar and World Rugby - who awarded Japan the 2019 hosting rights - was always the money. Now they have the justification to lobby for Japan on rugby grounds too.

Samoa, who are still pretty much at the stage of sending the wheelbarrow round the villages for donations, will stay in their familiar place of being out in the cold. They would love some kind of ticket into Super Rugby or the Rugby Championship. They would love to be kin with the big boys - having as they do the playing resource to survive there. But with no money and no lure of being the sort of place where anyone can make money, their only hope for changing the status quo is to demand it through their performances.

This is Samoa's time. They can get back to doing what they do best and rattling bones with their tackling.


When the Boks come hard, they will meet Motu Matu'u, the Hurricanes hooker who probably tackles harder than any man on the planet. TJ Ioane and Jack Lam will go all day and Kahn Fotuali'i must provide a timely reminder as to why many people feel he's one of the best halfbacks in the world. The electric feet of Tim Nanai-Williams can dance past anyone and stand back for the wrecking ball that is Alesana Tuilagi.

The bigger question is whether they have the organisation and tactical nous. Do they have the decision-makers, the poise, the control and patience to utilise what possession they win?

These are big questions and the time has come for Samoa to answer.

5 defining Samoa RWC moments

1. Beating Wales in 1991

The world stopped that day to watch what was then the biggest shock of all. The Welsh still talk about that defeat today.

2. Playing 16-man England

Unbelievably, England managed to play about 45 seconds of the 2003 pool match against Samoa with 16 men. It probably had no bearing on the outcome but still, rules are rules.

3. Bitten by the Boks

In the quarter-final of the 1995 World Cup, Samoa were well beaten in what was a brutal and entertaining game. It transpired that a few players had been bitten by the Boks during the game but they were persuaded to stay quiet.

4. Beating Wales again in 1999

Just to prove 1991 wasn't a fluke, Samoa repeated the trick in 1999. They pretty much did exactly what they had done eight years earlier and tackled Wales into a panic and then ran into the space that created.

5. Paul Williams' red card

The former Blues fullback was red-carded at North Harbour when Samoa played South Africa in 2011. It was such a harsh and unnecessary call that pretty much guaranteed that the Boks were going to hang on for the last 10 minutes.