Samoa believe they can perform at World Cup

Samoa coach Stephen Betham says that his team’s slide down the rankings is
no reflection of what his team are capable of at the Rugby World Cup.

The Pacific Island team have slipped down to 11 in the world rankings but have
a chance of being in the last eight if they get past Scotland or South Africa.

Samoa are in Pool B which includes South Africa, Japan, Scotland and the United
States.

South Africa’s Springboks are the only one of the four sides in their pool
that they have not beaten since the last World Cup.

The once leading island team — they now rate behind Fiji and Tonga — started
their World Cup build up providing a stern challenge for the All Blacks before
losing 25-16.

But after pushing the New Zealanders close, the 1991 and 1995 World Cup quarter-finalists
lost the Pacific Nations Cup (PNC) final to Fiji, after drawing with them in
pool play, and dropped two places in the world rankings.

However, Betham argues that being classified outside the top 10 is not as significant
as preparing for the World Cup.

“The World Cup is the big picture and that is the whole aim,” he
told the Samoa Observer.

“We have faith in this team and to us, this is the best team.”

The PNC gave Betham the chance to test players in a tournament environment
and while results may not have been what he wanted they did solve some selection
issues.

Six players missed the cut for England including Newcastle wing Sinoti Sinoti
while three locally-based amateurs — Jake Grey, Vavao Afemai and Patrick Faapale
— forced their way into a side dominated by overseas professionals.

London Irish flanker Ofisa Treviranus, 31, who was injured in the historic
All Blacks match, returns to captain the squad of 18 forwards and 13 backs.

Leicester Tigers prop Logovi’i Mulipola, Hurricanes midfielder Rey Lee-Lo and
the three Pisi brothers — Tusi (Suntory Sungoliath), George and Ken (both Northampton
Saints) — also make the squad after missing the PNC.

Samoa’s game plan is no secret — cash in on their physicality and look to
crash their way through to the line.

Brothers Vavae and Alesana Tuilagi along with giant prop Logovi’i Mulipola,
1.98 metre (6ft 6in) lock Joe Tekori, former Great Britain rugby league international
Maurie Fa’asavalu and Treviranus lead a side not short of speed, size and muscle.

They will, however, be missing veteran lock Kane Thompson for their must win
opener against the United States after he was suspended for punching an opponent
in their warm-up game against the Barbarians which they lost 27-24.

In the halves they have a world-class pairing in Kahn Fotuali’i and Tusi Pisi
but behind them the distribution ranks are sparse giving Betham the headache
of when, or even if, to rest his frontline halves.

In 2011, both started in the opening game against the less-demanding Namibia
where Pisi was injured after 30 minutes and unavailable for the must-win clash
with Wales four days later.

Wales came from behind to win 17-10 to beat Samoa for a berth in the quarter-finals
with South Africa from Pool D.

Betham does not want a repeat of that heartbreak and has put his faith in Afemai
and Faapale to step up when required.

Their distribution skills may be up to the mark but whether the amateur pair
have the tactical kicking nous is under question.

Veteran prop Census Johnston who faced the All Blacks despite his contract
with Toulouse stipulating an end to his Test career is not among the travelling
31.

But Betham has hinted the 34-year-old could be on the radar if a replacement
front-rower is required.

Johnston’s brother James, also a prop, as well as former skipper David Lemi
and scrum-half Pele Cowley were not available because of i

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