Friday 8 November 2013

Samoans to watch out for

The Samoans have named their team to face Ireland this Saturday, and here's what you need to know about the threats they face. The suggestion that this is an understrength Samoan team is a bit much. It's the strongest Samoan team that Ireland have ever faced.

Samoa (v Ireland):

15. F Autagavaia;
14. A Leiua,
13. G Pisi,
12. J Leota,
11. B Vaalu;
10. T Pisi,
9. K Fotuali’i (capt);
1. S Taulafo,
2. W Ole Avei,
3. L Mulipola;
4. F Lemalu,
5. T Paulo;
6. O Treviranus,
7. J Lam,
8. T Tuifua.
16. T Paulo,
17. V Afatia,
18. J Johnston,
19. I Tekori,
20. A Faosiliva,
21. J Sua,
22. I Tuifua,
23. F Otto.

Kahn Fotuali'i

Fotuali'i is the player most Irish fans recognise from his time at the Ospreys. Having developed in the ITM Cup like most Samoan players, Fotuali'i was the Crusaders starting scrumhalf for the 2010 season, causing many to believe he was about to receive a call up to the New Zealand side. However, at the end of the season, he chose to represent Samoa, and he left New Zealand to move to Swansea. He has since established himself as one of the best scrumhalves in the world, with last November's win against Wales one of the highlights of his career.

His recent move to Northampton hasn't been as successful, and he's been second choice behind Lee Dickson so far, which means he might be a little rusty come Saturday.

Nevertheless, his battle with Conor Murray will be one that Murray needs to win in order for Ireland to establish their dominance.

Alpati Leiua

One of three sets of brothers in the Samoan squad, Leiua made his Samoan debut this June. The 25 year old is a strong fast winger, that will cause Fergus McFadden all sorts of problems. 2013 has been a great year for him so far, as he took advantage of the injury to Cory Jane to cement his place on the wing for the Hurricanes, before strong performances for Wellington saw them reach of the final of the ITM Cup.

Johnny Leota

Sometimes, watching a video gives you everything you need to know about a player, and youtube user Nic Lush, has several videos on the aspects of Johnny Leota's game. The playlist of seven videos is below, showcasing his breakdown ability, his passing and offloads, his ability to break the line, his tries, his huge tackling and his kicking ability.

Tusi Pisi & George Pisi

The Pisi brothers are missing their brother Ken, who plays for Northampton with George, but both start on Saturday. The selection of George at outside centre offsets the loss of Gavin Williams, and potentially makes Samoa stronger for it. The match up between himself and Brian O'Driscoll will be a pre-cursor to the back to back Heineken Cup games between Northampton and Leinster in December. George has been fantastic for Northampton and was even named in the team of the season last year.

His brother Tusi is a typical Polynesian magician at outhalf. He has an impressive CV, with Crusaders, Hurricanes, Toulon and Suntory in Japan among the clubs he's played for, while he was in the Pacific Islands team that played in the old Lansdowne Road in 2006.

To give you a hint of the magic up Pisi's sleeve, this article from 2004 describes it well.
We play modified touch and when he's up against Rico Gear, Hosea Gear, Anthony Tuitavake, Nick Evans he's the slickest mover of them all.

Sakaria Taulafo

Admitedly, I don't know much about the Stade Francais loosehead, and I was expected Mulipola at loosehead and James Johnston at tighthead, but when the authority on French rugby, Murray Kinsella says he's good, that's enough for me.

Logovi'i Mulipola

Tigers prop has made huge strides in the last year since he signed for Richard Cockerill's men.
Cockerill said at the time of signing him:

"He has raw talent and arrived a couple of stone heavier than he is now.
"He can play at tight head and loose head, and props who can play on both sides of the scrum, can carry the ball well and are big men, are very hard to find.
"He is very raw but he will get better with us. He weighs almost 130kgs (20 stones) and that is his streamlined weight.
"He is a couple of stones heavier than Dan Cole and Castro."
Read more:
Last May an injury to Argentina's Marcus Ayerza gave Mulipola the chance, when Cockerill chose to pick Mulipola over Castrogiovanni, albeit on his less-favoured loosehead side, which he has taken and has kept Ayerza out since. This Saturday he'll switch to his favoured tighthead side, and will be a massive challenge for Jack McGrath on his debut.

Ofisa Treviranus

Alpati Leiua's brother, has previously played for Connacht and now plays for London Irish, is Treviranus of the few survivors from the side that narrowly lost 20-10 to Ireland in 2010.

Jack Lam

Lam may have only made his Samoan debut this June, but make no mistake, his Super Rugby experience means he's no newcomer to big games. A cousin of Connacht's Pat Lam, Jack is most likely to be the biggest thorn in Ireland's side. Chris Henry will have his hand full at the breakdown, and Lam is likely to disrupt Ireland any chance he can, while smashing players in the tackle, and driving Samoa forward. The 25 year old hasn't had the best of seasons with injury, but he will be a spearhead for Samoa for years to come.

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