Scotland aims to make amends amid Samoa's personnel problems
Scotland's bid to make amends at the Rugby World Cup seemingly got a lot easier after Samoa was struck down by personnel problems.
The Samoans lost four players to injuries and suspensions in the wake of the Russia game to slow any momentum they might have gained from their 34-9 win. No. 8 Afaesetiti Amosa left Japan, his tournament over because of a ruptured right knee ligament, and center Rey Lee-Lo and hooker Motu Matu'u each received three-match bans for dangerous tackles to rule them out of the rest of the group stage.
Matu'u was effectively already out of the Scotland game with a concussion, so his ban will extend to the quarterfinals, should Samoa make it. Scrumhalf Dwayne Polataivao also missed out on selection for the game against Scotland after Samoa said he had a suspected concussion. Jack Lam is back to captain Samoa, though, replacing Amosa at No. 8.
While Samoan spirits have been dampened by those injury and disciplinary issues, Scotland's morale was nearly crushed by Ireland.
The Scots were ultra-disappointing to be drubbed 27-3 by their Six Nations rivals in Yokohama. Ireland's forwards bullied a meek Scotland to set up the convincing win.
It led to three days of soul-searching in the Scottish camp and the added pressure of a stinging reaction by fans and media back home. Scotland's players must snap out of it because there's no time to stew on Ireland with the challenges ahead: Samoa, Russia and then host Japan in their final Pool A game, which could well decide who goes through to the quarterfinals. Ireland was upset by Japan on Saturday night, lifting the hosts into top spot in Pool A.
"The aftermath wasn't very nice," flanker John Barclay said of Scotland's loss to the Irish. "The first couple of days were pretty crap. You analyze it, over-analyze it and go over it and over it again. It's something we don't take lightly.
"(But) We're not going to sit in our hotel rooms and cry for a week. We can't do that. So, we've been out exploring. We're here at a World Cup, it's a great opportunity, and we've got another opportunity on Monday against Samoa."
Scotland players accepted that the performance against Ireland meant all of them were in danger of losing their places. Their heads were on the block is how they described it. Coach Gregor Townsend resisted the urge to swing the axe too much. He made five swaps, the most significant was picking a new backrow trio in Jamie Ritchie and Magnus Bradbury on the flanks and Blade Thomson at No. 8.
"The reality is we now have to win our next three games to make it out of our pool, so the knockout stages for us begin this Monday night," Townsend said.
Scotland will brace for a typically bruising challenge from Samoa, which went a little over the top against Russia. Lee-Lo and Matu'u were both yellow-carded within two minutes of each other for dangerous high tackles on Russia captain Vasily Artemyev, who managed to get up after both.
Scotland scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw said the referee in Kobe, Pascal Gauzere of France, should be prepared to dish out red cards if Samoa keeps dishing out high tackles.
High, dangerous tackles have made news in Japan after the first week of games. Australia's Reece Hodge was the first player banned for one, there were the two from the Samoans, England's Piers Francis has been cited for one, and American flanker John Quill was sent off for one, the only red of the tournament so far.
The dangers are obvious. Fiji flanker Peceli Yato sustained a concussion and left the field after Hodge's shoulder-led hit to his head in the Australia-Fiji game in Sapporo. Yato said he momentarily blacked out after the tackle and has been suffering from headaches, dizziness and fatigue.
On the two Samoan tackles on Russia's Artemyev, Laidlaw said: "They were two clear head shots and pretty brutal ones at that."
Laidlaw said he thought they should have been red cards.
"Ultimately you are looking for the ref to look after players."
Samoa has another shot at Scotland at the Rugby World Cup after they met in the last tournament, and the Scots escaped with a 36-33 pool-stage win.
As England coach Eddie Jones and others have noted, the second-tier teams are "playing for their lives" at the Rugby World Cup, the only time they get such broad international exposure. Samoa hasn't made the quarterfinals since 1995.
"We talk about putting Samoa back on the map in the World Cup," Samoa winger Alapati Leiua said.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Blade Thomson, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury, Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Willem Nel, Stuart McInally (captain), Allan Dell. Reserves: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Ryan Wilson, George Horne, Adam Hastings, Duncan Taylor.
Samoa: Tim Nanai-Williams, Belgium Tuatagaloa, Alapati Leiua, Henry Taefu, Ed Fidow, Tusi Pisi, Melani Matavao; Jack Lam (captain), TJ Ioane, Chris Vui, Kane Le'aupepe, Teofilo Paulo, Michael Alaalatoa, Ray Niuia, Logovii Mulipola. Reserves: Seilala Lam, Paul Alo-Emile, Jordan Lay, Piula Faasalele, Josh Tyrell, Pele Cowley, Ulupano Seuteni, Kieron Fonotia.