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The Underdogs: Samoa

The Underdogs: Samoa

Duncan Paia'aua

It has been almost a decade since Samoa beat European opposition, something they will look to put right in the Summer Nations Series ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

A tough test awaits them in their sole Summer Nations Series Test of the summer, as they travel to Dublin to take on Andy Farrell’s Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

It will be excellent preparation for this autumn’s World Cup campaign in France, where Samoa will hope to make it out of the pool stage for the first time since 1999.

The Coach –Seilala Mapusua

At the helm since August 2020, Seilala Mapusua will hope for a strong showing from his side this summer ahead of a tough Rugby World Cup pool that contains Australia, England, and Japan.

Mapusua enjoyed a successful club career that saw him win 26 caps for Samoa and appear over 100 times for London Irish, where the centre was voted Players’ Player of the Year at the Professional Rugby Players’ Association awards in 2009.

The Moto’otua-born back represented Manu Samoa at the 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups, and scored his sole try against Wales in 2009.

After retirement in 2016, Mapusua turned his hand to coaching, first with Otago in New Zealand before taking the helm with Samoa following the departure of Steve Jackson.

This year has seen an impressive victory against Japan paired with defeat to Fiji and a win over Tonga to follow on from autumnal triumphs over Georgia and Romania and defeat to Italy at the end of 2022.

Star Player – Chris Vui

With three former All-Blacks as well as ex-Australia fly-half Christian Leali’ifano, Samoa have serious strength and experience to rely on.

Co-captain Chris Vui will lead Manu Samoa into battle alongside prop Michael Ala’alatoa, and the lock’s performances should be central to a strong showing in both Dublin and France.

Alongside Saracens’ Theo McFarland, Vui will offer a huge physical presence up front with fellow Bristol Bear Steve Luatua close behind in the back row.

Vui has plenty of experience from his time in Super Rugby and Premiership Rugby, and was just 24 when he first captained Samoa in 2017; he will hope to use every ounce of his knowledge as his side look to upset the odds this year.

One to Watch – Ben Lam

Bolter Ben Lam will give opposition defences a whole other threat to think about at this year’s Summer Nations Series and beyond.

The 32-year-old was not included in any of Samoa’s previous squads but has made the cut for Mapusua’s currently 32-man squad.

An imposing figure on the wing at 6ft 4in, Lam brings real quality to the Samoan attack and could be their game-changer against more established opposition.

A regular in Super Rugby and the Top 14 over the past decade, Lam brings plenty of experience too, as well as 16 caps for New Zealand Sevens with whom he earned Commonwealth Games silver in 2014.


Future Prospects

The World Rugby U20 Trophy has been the most recent platform to see the next generation of Manu Samoa, as they registered a fourth-place finish in Kenya this summer.

A second-place finish in Pool B behind Spain came thanks to narrow victories against Kenya and Hong Kong before any hopes of a podium finish were dashed in the third-place play-off as Scotland comfortably on 83-10.

Samoa are two-time champions, having lifted the trophy in 2011 and 2016 as well as tasting final defeat in 2018; the task will be to continue to compete at the top of the Trophy and earn promotion to the Championship to unlock even better competition for the next generation.

With no-one younger than 23 in the current squad, and only five players under 26, the task to bridge the gap and keep the pathway flowing with talent remains clear.

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