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Samoans looking for Irish 'scalp' after frustrations with high-tackle bans

Steve Jackson’s side are missing two players due to suspensions for high shots against Russia.

JOE SCHMIDT’S KNOWLEDGE of Samoa began when he was still a teenager.

His older brother, Kieran – who went on to become a student and professor of Pacific History – was teaching in Samoa for a few years and the young Joe travelled over from New Zealand for several visits.

Kieran was based in the capital city of Apia but the pair of them traversed the two main islands to discover more of the country, being blown away by the hospitality they encountered.

scotland-v-samoa-pool-a-2019-rugby-world-cup-misaki-stadium Schmidt is a fan of the Samoan people. Source: David Davies

The Samoans tend to be a little less hospitable on the rugby pitch, where their well-known fondness for heavy contact can make them truly troublesome opponents.

Schmidt’s knowledge of the Samoans in a rugby sense is, of course, very deep. Few coaches in the global game will have studied Steve Jackson’s side in the depth the Ireland head coach has ahead of Saturday’s crucial World Cup Pool A clash in Fukuoka.

Ireland know a bonus-point victory will secure them a quarter-final regardless of what happens on Sunday in the Japan v Scotland game – if it even goes ahead – but the Samoans are eyeing up a little bit of history with a shock win.

Their team announcement at the swanky Hilton Sea Hawk Hotel in Fukuoka yesterday saw the Samoans showing some of their off-pitch hospitality as they welcomed members of the travelling Irish media for a chat.

Jackson was flanked by the endearingly shy Piula Fa’aselele and Teofilo Paulo as they outlined their intent to finish this World Cup with a bang. Jackson said a shock win over Ireland would be right up there with Samoa reaching the 1991 and 1995 quarter-finals.

“Being in the professional era, this is probably one of the biggest games that we could play and win,” said Jackson.

“To be ranked where we are and they are in the top five in the world, for us it would be massive.

“We have an opportunity to finish a World Cup, knowing that we are on a plane on Monday going home. To have a scalp like this would be great.

“We understand the climate that we’re living in but what better opportunity to finish the World Cup?”

japan-rugby-wcup-japan-samoa Samoa head coach Steve Jackson. Source: Shuji Kajiyama

Jackson said the Samaons expect Schmidt’s Ireland to be “very direct,” with a great kicking game from the influential of halfbacks Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, while also acknowledging how desperately the Irish will be pursuing a bonus point.

Many Ireland fans have fears about how the Samoans’ power could lead to Ireland suffering injuries in this final pool game, weakening Schmidt’s side for a possible quarter-final a week later.

“I have watched the Samoan games over the years and you get some big hits, real physicality,” said Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier yesterday.

Samoa have faced criticism for their tackle technique at this World Cup, with centre Rey Lee-Lo and hooker Matu Motu’u missing this weekend’s game due to bans for high shots against Russia that only saw them yellow-carded by Romain Poite during that game.

The Samoans also had wing Ed Fidow red-carded in their defeat to Scotland after he picked up two yellow cards.

Jackson, however, has real frustrations about the nature of those bans and the discourse around Samoa’s tackling.

“People can say what they like,” said Jackson. “We heard journalists saying that the tackle that Rey Lee-Lo did could have killed someone. Well, they have obviously got no idea how to play the game. Both tackles in that game were bent at the hips.

“There were a couple of other players that got off over the last few days for high shots and the mitigating circumstance was the player dropping height.

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scotland-v-samoa-pool-a-2019-rugby-world-cup-misaki-stadium Ireland will face the Siva Tau on Saturday. Source: Adam Davy

“In both instances with those two tackles against Russia, I would have thought that they had made it clear that determining the height and how far a player can drop, they would have set the example then and they obviously haven’t.

“We have all seen in this Rugby World Cup how inconsistent the penalties have been.

“I know Joe [Schmidt] said, not in a press conference, but in one of our coaches’ meetings, he asked a question and he was dead right to – ‘How many concussions come from head height? There wasn’t any answer.

“There are more concussions that come from guys getting tackled low and hitting knees. Now you see guys diving at the legs, they are getting yellow carded for no-arms tackles.

“Look, I accept that the other tackle in the Russia game was late but he hit him in the chest. Where does the game go in terms of physicality?

“We talk about player safety and we understand that but it’s starting to go the other way.

“Referees are too scared to referee the way they should ref and players are too scared to go out there… I would hate to see this World Cup come down to the team who can keep the most players on the field.

“I thought we had perfect arguments. There are guys who have got off with way worse than what happened there so I was expecting that they would set a precedent.”

Nic Berry is the man in the middle on Saturday and both sides will be hoping there is no cause for the Australian to reach for his cards.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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