Samoa are “flying with confidence” ahead of their World Cup semi-final with England, bolstered by a squad of superstars at the pinnacle of their careers.
That’s the view of Willie Poching, who captained Samoa in the 2000 World Cup, ahead of Saturday’s rematch at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
England hammered an under-prepared Samoa 60-6 on the opening day of the tournament, but that seems a lifetime ago as their team of NRL stars have clicked up through the gears.
And for Poching, this current side is something very special.
“There has never been a Samoa team with this quality of player,” he said.
“They are at the pinnacle of their careers and the pinnacle of form. The turnaround in form has been about time. They went into Newcastle cold. Some of the guys had only had four or five days in the country and then straight into the cauldron. Each player has got better and better, and to see the likes of Brian To’o and Jarome Luai has been enormous.”
Speaking exclusively on the Love Rugby League podcast ahead of both semi-finals, Poching explains the transformation in the side since that painful afternoon in Newcastle.
“The ability to score points, the combinations, you can just see with every single game they have grown in confidence.
“What has really got me is the leadership of Jarome Luai who has grown as the tournament has gone on. He has allowed Anthony Milford to exploit his running game, given the team some direction, taken a lot off responsibility off Danny Levi who has been able to just work tirelessly defensively. That’s been a big one, they all understand their role now. That comes down to time and practise. They go into this week flying with confidence.”
England favourites in rematch with Samoa
Despite Samoa’s form, and their sensational quarter-final win over Tonga, Poching insists they remain underdogs in London.
“England will be favourites and have been fantastic.
“They look a settled, happy camp and have been based in one place which has given them consistency in how they are preparing.
“We are seeing players now reach season-best form. Chris Hill, George Williams, Mike Cooper all outstanding for England. Hilly was up and down with Huddersfield, George was disappointed with how things went at Warrington. But with England his partnership with Jack a Welsby has been immense.
“They move the ball and kick smart, Dom Young outstanding on the wing. They are ticking every box as a team so Samoa really have their work cut out. Shaun Wane has enforced his philosophy and they all understand what that is.
“But have they been tested yet? I’m not sure. That’s probably the one advantage for Samoa who are battle-hardened. Samoa’s obvious strength is the power. They have big front rowers but also a couple of pocket front rowers on the wings too. Brian To’o is something else.”
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