Samoa: "Time to fulfill our potential"
Story and Photo: www.rugbyworldcup.com
The rugby establishment was shaken to its roots last weekend when Australia, ranked second in the world behind New Zealand, lost to 10th ranked Samoa in Sydney.
The week before, Samoa had been beaten by Tonga in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup and started against the Wallabies as rank outsiders, even with Robbie Deans resting a number of front line players.
When giant wing Alesana Tuilagi went over for Samoa’s first try after 10 minutes, few in the 30,000-strong crowd could have predicted that they would hold on for a famous 32-23 victory.
"I take my hat off to the boys, we kept it up for 80 minutes,” Mahonri Schwalger told Total Rugby afterwards. “The whole week we’ve been about this game and we’ll never get the chance again to play against the Australians.
“Today was something special for us and I think we create history for Samoan rugby and the future for our young Samoans back home. Today I’m lost for words, I’m happy.”
Participation in the annual Pacific Nations Cup meant that the Samoans travelled to Sydney battle-hardened, but just four days prior they had lost 29-19 against Tonga to finish a disappointing fourth in the standings.
But events in Sydney have once again transformed their expectations heading for the Rugby World Cup, in which they have failed to progress beyond the pool stages since 1999.
"We let ourselves down in '07"
“I think we really let ourselves down at the last World Cup so there’s a lot of motivation going into this one,” admitted captain Sailala Mapusua of the 2007 campaign, in which they lost three of their four pool games.
“There’s an agreement amongst the boys that it’s about time we fulfilled our potential as this is possibly our last one together.”
The Samoans have been World Cup ever-presents since making their debut in 1991. Their best showing to date was a quarter final appearance against the eventual champions South Arica in 1995.
They secured their place in this year’s tournament after defeating Papua New Guinea back in July 2009 and if they’re to go on and repeat the exploits of 1995 they first have to come through a group that includes fellow South Sea islanders Fiji as well as Namibia, South Africa and Wales.
Mapusua: "Very tough pool"
“I’m actually glad Fiji are in our group as they seem to be Wales’ bogey team, and South Africa don’t always do well against Wales, so it’s an exciting pool. It is going to be very tough and I think it will go down to the final round of pool matches,” added Mapusua.
With pool fixtures in Rotorua, Hamilton and Auckland, one thing he and Samoa will not lack is support.
“A lot of us have said in the past that this is as close to a home World Cup as we’ll get, and it is a home World Cup for a lot of the boys who were born and raised in New Zealand, so it’s really exciting for us, and really exciting for our people too.”
After their sensational result at the weekend, the Samoans have the perfect base from which to launch their World Cup bid. South Africa, Namibia, Fiji and Wales will all no doubt be sitting a little less comfortably in their respective camps.