For some Samoans, Ireland clash could mean everything
Pacific Islanders have sacrificed to be here and a big performance could secure a contract
Filo Paulo is one of those Samoan players out of contract at the moment. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
The World Cup has become extremely serious everywhere else. Ever the showman, Tuipola Evan Charlton came before a room largely full of Irish journalists to announce the Samoa team to face Ireland in Fukuoka on Saturday morning (7.45pm local time/11.45am Irish time).
Charlton is the media manager. Born in Auckland of Welsh and Samoan parentage, now living in Sydney, he is made for the role right here, right now. After introducing head coach Steve Jackson and Perpignan’s Piula Fa’asalele, he turns to Filo Paulo and hesitates.
“Can’t remember your club bro,” Charlton whispers into the microphone.
Paulo, the until recently London Irish lock, whispers back: “Free agent bro.”
“And to Steve’s right is Filo Paulo, who is a free agent.”
When the laughter dies down it registers just how important this game, on this platform, is for the future livelihoods of so many Samoan players who sacrificed the financial security of their families to feature at this tournament.
Paulo is still only 31.
“Great exposure for some of the boys,” says the fearsome looking Fa’asalele. “We have nothing to hide, nothing to lose, but a lot to play for.”
Charlton is smarter than he lets on.
“So, Steve, to get the ball rolling with a question: In Fukuoka it is pretty nice weather – looks like it will be Typhoon free Saturday night – what’s the feeling like in camp heading into this grand finale against Ireland?”
“Nice question,” smiles the usually no nonsense Jackson. “As you can see we are a couple of shades darker. It has been nice weather outside.”
Both squads have spent some down time on Palm Beach before turning to match preparation.
“This is a game where we have nothing to lose,” Jackson continues. “We are still playing for pride. I don’t think the game is going to be won on penalties. Both teams will play an expansive game and try to score tries. Ireland, what with not knowing the outcome of [Scotland v Japan] on Sunday, they will need to score tries.
“We are not here to make up the numbers,” Jackson warns. “We will throw the ball around, make it a spectacle and hopefully come out on the right side of the ledger.”
Tim Nanai-Williams has shaken off a concussive blow sustained in controversial circumstances against Japan to return at fullback in what Ireland will find a very difficult backline to break through.
Heavy tackling will be on the agenda. Samoa are still smarting from the yellow card TJ Ioane received against Japan.
“I know it was late,” says the coach, “but it was shoulder to chest. That’s the way the game has gone.
“I know Joe [Schmidt] asked a question at one of our coaches meetings: ‘How many concussions come from head height [tackles]?’ There wasn’t any answer. There are more concussions coming from guys going low and hitting the knees.
“Referees are too scared to referee the way they should. I would hate to see this World Cup come down to the team that can keep the most players on the field.”
Up in Yokohama, Scotland are fighting for their existence at Japan 2019. Reporters are being briefed that cancelling Sunday's final Pool A match against the hosts does not need to happen. The contingency plan empowers World Rugby to postpone the game with the overriding imperative being for the match to be played.
“Scottish Rugby fully expects contingency plans to be put in place to enable Scotland to contest for a place in the quarter-finals on the pitch, and will be flexible to accommodate this,” reads the SRU statement. “We are in regular dialogue with World Rugby at all levels to work to ensure our fixture against Japan on Sunday can be played as planned. Public safety is the clear priority.”
The Scots are understandably desperate to see the match go ahead - otherwise they go home - but Jackson, having also been briefed by WR about Typhoon Hagibis, emphasised the public safety element.
“From what I understand Scotland v Japan cannot be moved [from Yokohama]. It will either be cancelled or played,” Jackson adds. “It is bad as we are being told too right they got to cancel the game.
“There is too much involved. People’s lives. Anything can happen. Maybe the teams that have been cancelled already [Italy v New Zealand and England v France] can go into each other’s hotels and have a beer together.”
England wasted no time escaping Tokyo to return to their training camp in Miyazaki.
“We’re not concerned, we’re excited,” said England coach Eddie Jones.
“Someone is smiling at us, the typhoon gods maybe.”
The Japanese typhoon god is called Raijin.
“I’ve been walking around the streets and there are a lot of people with disappointed faces. It’s difficult for the supporters and we’re lucky to have great fans.
“It’s a wonderful World Cup but you can’t help typhoons. We all like to think we have power but these things happen and we rise above it. We’ll do some light training Friday, have a hit out Saturday and then have a few beers.”
With England and France having already qualified for the quarter-finals, neither camp was overly put out by the cancellation.
Italy, however, are eliminated as a result of the draw and do not get to face the All Blacks in what would have been a final test match for several members of the squad and management.
Mike Catt joins Andy Farrell’s Ireland coaching ticket in 2020 while Conor O’Shea’s long term future as head coach is unclear.
Samoa: Tim Nanai-Williams; Ah See Tuala, Alapati Leiua, Henry Taefu, Ed Fidow; UJ Seuteni, Dwayne Polataivao; Logovi’i Mulipola, Seilala Lam, Michael Alaalatoa; Teofilo Paulo, Kane Le’aupepe; Chris Vui, TJ Ioane, Jack Lam (capt).
Replacements: Ray Niuia, Paul Alo-Emile, Jordan Lay, Piula Fa’asalele, Josh Tyrell, Pele Cowley, Tusi Pisi, Kieron Fonotia.