Can the Manu Samoa repeat history at Bankwest Stadium?
History repeats itself. Could that happen at Paramatta’s Bankwest Stadium in Sydney tonight when the Manu Samoa takes on the mighty Wallabies? Who knows? Fingers crossed.
What we do know – and remember very well like it was yesterday - is that in 2011 prior to the Rugby World Cup, the Manu Samoa superbly led by captain Mahonri Schwalger, scored one of the biggest upsets in rugby history.
At ANZ Stadium, they embarrassed the second best team in the world, Robbie Dean’s Australian team, 32-23. How can we forget that famous try from the hulking Alesana Tuilagi who out-sprinted Matt Gitteau down the flanks before the big dive?
Indeed, that victory was sweet, the highlights will live forever in Samoan rugby folklore.
But that was then. Eight years later, the two teams are again playing under very similar circumstances. With the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan merely two weeks way, tonight’s test match is critical for both sides, who will no doubt want to end their preparations on a high.
Keep in mind that this Australian team is on a high after a big win over the All Blacks a few weeks ago. It is perhaps why they have chosen to rest a lot of their key players for the Parramatta test, opting to use some of their lesser-known names.
But that could again be their undoing, as it was in 2011.
At the time, the Reds had just won the Super Rugby title. Instead of playing their star players, Deans decided to rest them, naming a second tier team. It was a big mistake.
One of the star players in that historical win for Samoa, Daniel Leo, said afterwards that Deans’ decision to play a second string offended them.
"There was probably a bit of underestimation on the Wallabies' part,” he said after the match. “We fed off the fact that they were using it as a trial match for a few guys they hadn't seen; we were quite offended by that. We used that ... everyone came out firing. Pacific Island teams have always had great success coming in as underdogs, we thrive on that. We were allowed to play the sort of game we wanted to play, coming off the line and connecting with a few hits – we could see they were rattled.”
Leo added: "We're confidence players and once the guys could see the momentum in our favour there were guys putting on hits that don't usually put on big hits like that. You grow two feet for your team-mates. It was infectious and spread through the team."
Could that happen again tonight? We hope so.
But let’s provide some perspective here. Back in 2011 under the guidance of coach Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua, the Manu Samoa had been building very nicely with a number of narrow losses against tier one countries. For instance, they had lost to Ireland, 10-20, England, 13-23 and narrowly to Scotland, 16-19.
Let’s also not forget the team then featured a number of quality international Samoan players who had years and years of experience. Think of Schwalger, Tuilagi, Paul Williams, Kane Thompson, Pisi brothers, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu and many more.
Looking at the team today, apart from Tusi Pisi, none of those names are around anymore. It is a completely new set up with many young players taking on the challenge.
The epic result for Samoa from the last time the two teams met will put pressure on the present team. Which is understandable.
But tonight’s test is a different kettle of fish. The only similarities to 2011 is the fact it is again being played before the Rugby World Cup and Michael Cheika has again decided to rest some of his key players.
Apart from that, we have a relatively inexperienced team and Manu Samoa’s form of late has not been that convincing. Still we’d like to believe that nothing is impossible.
Coach Vaeluaga Steve Jackson sounds reasonably optimistic.
“We’ve got a very mobile pack – a strong loose forward trio and we’re big up front. We’ve also got a lot of experience on the bench, who can come into the game and help us finish strongly,” he said.
“This is going to be a huge game in a fantastic stadium and some of our boys are really excited about their first time against a Tier 1 team. So I’m expecting a physical challenge. It’s going to be tough - being Sekope Kepu’s last home game in a Wallaby jersey and the return of David Pocock.
“But if we are able play our brand of rugby then I’m confident we can get the result that we want.”
With the World Cup only a few days a way, a win over Australia will be a great start to that campaign. That said, whatever the outcome would be, we will always support our boys in blue. So here is wishing them all the best for tonight and the next few weeks at the World Cup in Japan.
And don’t forget, stay up to date with all the news from Manu Samoa’s World Cup campaign with the Samoa Observer. Go Manu Samoa!
Have a wonderful weekend, God bless!