Demoralised Samoa between Scotland and the last eight

Finn Russell returns at St James’ Park as Vern Cotter’s side look to secure second spot

Pool B, Samoa v Scotland, Saturday October 10th, 2.30pm, St James’ Park

When they arrived in Brighton four weeks ago Samoa took mass at St Magdalen’s Church in the town. They packed the pews in their sarongs and at the end offered to sing the final song Lota Nu’u.

A photograph subsequently graced the pages of the town’s newspaper, The Argus. From there it has been a downhill slide for the Pacific Islanders.

Once a united squad optimistically facing into the World Cup, the word from the Samoan camp now is one of disharmony and demoralisation.


They are also without winger Alesana Tuilagi, who was hit with a five week ban which he has appealed. The ban was roundly condemned by former Australian winger, David Campese in his Daily Telegraph newspaper column.

One of the loudest voices for what he sees as a tournament skewed against Tier Two nations, Campese saw Tuilagi go into collision with Japan’s Harumichi Tatekawa as Tuilagi and the other island players do, seeking, relishing, inviting contact.

The citing commissioner saw it as illegally leading with the knee. Regardless Samoa, who have left their captain, former Connacht player Ofisa Treviranus out of the match day squad, face a full strength Scotland side following defeats to South Africa and Japan.

It is a curious game for Scotland, who have their lavishly talented outhalf Finn Russell back from injury after missing the game against the Springboks. Flanker John Hardie, centre Matt Scott and Hooker Ross Ford, the main fitness issues, will also start in a match that the Scots must win to graduate to the knockout phase.

"John finally got the questions right," said Scotland coach Vern Cotter on his openside's attempts to prove himself concussion free.

“Finn has been working incredibly hard and the medical staff have done a fantastic job with him but he couldn’t have started last week. All four got through training okay and had a couple of contact session to make sure.”

Scotland have won two of their pool matches so far, against a tired Japan, who they got four days after the Springboks and the USA, who led the match going into half time. Scotland were forced to recover from a 13-6 deficit to beat the passionate Eagles 39-16.

What has not gone unnoticed too is that if Scotland go through to the quarterfinals and obviously England haven’t, they do so having won just three matches in the Six Nations Championship since the last World Cup, twice against Italy and Ireland in 2013.

Samoan coach Stephen Betham has made seven changes for the St James' Park match with new centre and backrow partnerships. While Samoa registered their only ever (27-17) win over Scotland back in 2013 in a Quadrangular tournament in South Africa, just six players from that match day 23 are in today's squad.

“We haven’t played well all World Cup. But maybe we’ve got one in us. We can be dangerous on any day but we have to show up, not just on the field but off it,” said Betham in a veiled reference to the disharmony.

Exciting to watch and blessed with natural athleticism, Samoa have a poor disciplinary record. Against Japan they shipped 19 penalties and drew three yellow cards. They concede an average of 13 penalties per game, more than 50 per cent of those in their own half, an aspect of their game of some interest to Scotland's kicker and captain, Greig Laidlaw.

“We play hard and we play tough. That’s the way we know how to play rugby,” added Betham.

And that has been both their allure and their undoing.

Scotland: S Hogg (Glasgow), S Maitland (London Irish), M Bennett (Glasgow), M Scott (Edinburgh), T Seymour (Glasgow), F Russell (Glasgow). G Laidlaw (Gloucester, captain); A Dickinson (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), WP Nel (Edinburgh), R Gray (Castres), J Gray (Glasgow), R Wilson (Glasgow), J Hardie (unattached), D Denton (Edinburgh). Replacements: F Brown (Glasgow), G Reid (Glasgow), J Welsh (Newcastle), T Swinson (Glasgow), J Strauss (Glasgow), H Pyrgos (Glasgow), P Horne (Glasgow), S Lamont (Glasgow).

Samoa: T Nanai-Williams (Ricoh Black Rams), Pl Perez (Coastal Sharks), G Pisi (Northampton), R Lee-Lo (Cardiff), F Autagavaia (Nevers), T Pisi (Suntory Sungoliath), K Fotuali'i (Northampton, captain); S Taulafo (Stade Francais), M Leiataua (Aurillac), C Johnston (Toulouse), T Paulo (Treviso), K Thompson (Newcastle), M Faasavalu (Bath), J Lam (Bristol), A Faosiliva (Bath). Replacements: M Matu'u (Wellington Hurricanes), V Afatia (Agen), A Perenise (Bristol), F Levave (Wellington Lions), V Tuilagi (Carcassonne), V Afemai (Manu 7s), P Faapale (Manu 7s), K Pisi (Northampton).

Referee: J Peyper

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times