Friday, 11 November 2016

November 2016 preview: Samoa

Image result for samoa rugby Samoa (vs France, Georgia & Canada)

The past 2 years have seen Samoa go from some of their all time highs of the professional era, with 7th place in the rankings, and dominant wins over Tier 1 nations, to disputes over incompetent amateur administration and a disappointing RWC campaign possibly on a par with 2007.

On paper the group of players that delivered wins over Australia, Wales and Scotland appears to be now ageing and maybe past their peak. And there does not at first glance seem to be talent ready in key positions of front row and 9/10 to in the immediate term seamlessly replace veterans like Ole Avei (33), Census Johnston (35), Kahn Fotuali'i or Tusi Pisi (both 34).

With others like David Lemi (34) or Paul Williams (33) also both recalled, and several others either past or pushing 30. Coach Alama Ieremia has opted to keep faith in his old guard for now, and has resisted the temptation to leave out many of his most experienced players who may not be around by the time of the next RWC as Toutai Kefu has done with Tonga.

This may make Samoa probably the oldest squad around right now, but it does mean they have lots of knowledge and pedigree in their side with players who've been around the block. Samoa may not be the side they were in 2012, but remain one of the better Tier 2 sides and showed against New Zealand and Scotland last year that they can't be written off and can rise to an occasion.

It will be interesting to see how this Samoan side does this November, and if successful how Ieremia approaches the build up to the 2019 RWC and how many veterans he backs to reach that tournament. His side had a mixed June, with a win, a draw and a loss. Less than two wins this month, and an uncompetitive loss to France, would probably see the year regarded as a disappointment and put early pressure on the coach in front of a demanding public that's used to seeing their country as the strongest Tier 2 side.

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