The first sighting of the visiting Samoa team arrived on Monday afternoon as images arrived of Stephen Betham’s men training at Blackrock College.
The Samoans were on-camera in D4 again yesterday nut are not planning to speak to the media until Thursday morning. They will make their announcement the same morning and the squad will feature names that many Irish rugby fans have little knowledge of. The world’s number seven team are seeking to glide under the radar but, make no mistake, they are planning to leave with an Irish scalp.
Ireland scrumhalf Eoin Reddan attempted to highlight the threat posed by a Samoan team that did for Wales, Italy and Scotland in the past 12 months.
“It’s a tough one,” he conceded, “because, inside the squad, we know what to expect. Outside, most people won’t so expectations are going to be high. There’s a bit of a gap between what to expect and what’s a reality.”
The reality Ireland will face on Saturday is a Samoan team containing 13 players that ply their trade in the Top 14 and Premiership. Filling the gaps could well be a Super Rugby flyer [Alapati Leiua] and another who earned some handy money in Japan before making a long-awaited debut with the Hurricanes [Tusi Pisi].
Ireland forwards coach John Plumtree told TheScore.ie: “Pisi was a real danger man in South Africa [the quadrangular series]. He was really really dangerous from open play. He cut the Springboks up a couple of times and did the same to Italy and Scotland. Leiua on the right wing, who plays for the Hurricanes. I know him from Super Rugby; he’s one to watch.”
No longer are the Samoans cobbled together from across the rugby-playing globe. 20 of their squad operate in France with second-row Filo Paulo playing with Cardiff Blues.
“Kahn Fotuali’i, when he came on, added a real spark. He’s some player.”
That was the opinion of Joe Schmidt, speaking as Leinster coach last November after the Samoan scrumhalf had inspired Ospreys to a comeback league win over the Blues. Schmidt is working on the assumption that Fotuali’i, now with Northampton Saints, will start behind a hefty Samoan pack.
Fotuali’i is a dangerous operator, a sniping runner and a man that revels in the broken rugby that Samoa like to deliver in staccato bursts.
Tusi Pisi trains with Samoa at Blackrock College RFC. INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Joe Schmidt may have liked to blood Jack McGrath ahead of next year’s Six Nations but, faced with a formidable Samoan front-row, his impact may have to come from the bench. Sean Cronin may get the nod at hooker but wayward throwing in recent Leinster outings may not help his cause.
With the French Barbarians and Georgia next up for Betham’s men, the coach will have his big guns primed. Expect their front row to feature Logovi’i Mulipola [Leicester Tigers], Ti’i Paulo [Clermont] and Census Johnston [Toulouse]. In reserve may be James Johnston [Saracens] and hooker Ole Acei [Bordeaux].
Schmidt may have to throw Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross in from the start. Fans thinking of withdrawing the trio after 50 or 60 minutes when a healthy lead is built up have not seen Samoa play of late.
Add Northampton’s George Pisi [Northampton] and captain Paul Williams [Stade Francais] to the backline mix. When Reddan argued that Samoa ‘are tougher than you guys think they are’ he was not far off the mark.
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