Samoa have nothing to lose, and have Ireland in their sights
Schmidt must be wary of Samoan desire to land a significant blow at the World Cup
Samoa’s Henry Taefu is tackled by Japan’s Michael Leitch during their World Cup Pool A match at the City of Toyota Stadium. Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images
A Japanese reporter and interpreter corner Henry Taefu, Samoa’s steel-nerved goal kicker, in the mixed zone: “Ireland faded against Japan, but Samoa did not. Will that matter when you meet them in Fukuoka?”
Ouch. Temperatures have taken a noticeable dip this past week, but that stick will be used to beat Joe Schmidt’s Ireland for a long time to come.
“We did a lot of fitness in our training camps,” says Taefu. “The Samoan rugby team – people tend to think we will get tired in the second half but the game was still there to be won.”
This is a valid comment. On 72 minutes Taefu’s try made it a seven-point game. Japan’s response, to snatch a bonus point victory, was nothing short of phenomenal.
Samoan rugby players are usually as polite off the field as they are menacing on it. But they have swallowed enough. Disgusted with the hand they have been dealt at this World Cup, raging at referees and TMOs, and citing how officers perceive their acts of foul play but not other teams, their farewell to Japan 2019 could be the last run in the beloved blue jersey for so many of them.
Financial realities will force players to choose club over country for at least the next three years.
“We have nothing to lose now,” said scrumhalf Dwanye Polataivao. “It’s not about points or anything, just a big performance.”
Samoa are beyond dangerous now. Samoa are playing as if their livelihoods depend on it. Because they do.
Polataivao and Taefu lingered in the mixed zone after the 38-19 defeat to Japan, fully aware of the profitable routes taken by fellow Samoans like Bundee Aki and Timothy Lafaele.
“Bundee made his decisions for his family,” said Polataivao. “You can’t fault that. He is just another brother trying to support his kids. Much respect to him and all the Samoan and Tongan boys in the Japan team. It is what it is. Much respect to them.
“But you can’t fault our brotherhood. Money and all that drama is out of our control, we are going to stay together in this last week. We really want to win this last game, for our fans, but for ourselves as well. We really felt we were right there but finishing let us down.”
That’s why Jack Lam opted to scrum down deep in injury time five metres from their own try line. “We believe we can score from anywhere,” said Lam.
Very unlike Ireland against Japan, when Joey Carbery secured what may prove a vital bonus point by kicking the ball dead from his own goal line.
Samoa have an almost insane desire from to land a significant blow at this World Cup, and Ireland are up next.
Concerns remain around the availability of Tim Nani-Williams – Sonny Bill’s cousin – after the Clermont fullback failed a head injury assessment (HIA) following a head clash with Japan’s Australian lock James Moore.
“TJ’s was shoulder to the chest,” said Samoan coach Steve Jackson of his openside’s yellow card. “Tim copped a shoulder to the head. We lose him to HIA and nothing happens but the officials are afraid to referee the game the way they see it.”
Be afraid, Ireland, be very afraid, as this anger will not subside – it will simmer until Saturday at the Hakatanomori stadium.
Deep inside Ireland’s Fukuoka bunker Schmidt was watching events unfold over the weekend. Not bothering to study the soaring hosts – they are irrelevant now – but Samoa’s refusal to fade.
They are a decent side, and it’s guaranteed that one of the proudest rugby nations will hunt down Johnny Sexton and Ireland before scattering to whichever foreign clubs will have them mid-season. They may yet prove Schmidt’s worst nightmare to finish off Pool A.
Taefu’s late try deepens this fear.
Ever tussled against Aki? “Never played him before. Should be an interesting match-up if I get another start at 12.”