After this week’s revelations that the Samoan Rugby Union is bankrupt, at least according to the chairman who doubles up as the country’s prime minister, there was only one question that Bristol lock Chris Vui was going to face regardless of whether the new Samoa skipper could offer any insight on the matter.
He couldn’t, or rather, if he could, he wasn’t going to trash his own Samoan Rugby Union in front of foreign journalists who he had only just met. That inconvenient fact wasn’t going to prevent one question being asked in umpteen different guises.
So the Samoan Union is bankrupt huh?
“I feel that is not part of our concern,” replied Vui. “It is the Union. We have a tight group here and it has not affected us at all. That stuff outside rugby has not affected us one single bit.”
Nevertheless it must be a concern?
“We are a unique country,” Vui responded. “A unique band of brothers. We may not have the best things, the stuff other unions have, but we have a real good brotherhood. That pride in our jersey means a lot more than anything. It means so much to us.”
“That stuff is out of our hands. The pride in our jersey, the respect for our jersey is real huge for us. We will always get though the dark times. The brotherhood we have here and the pride in our country and wearing the jersey will get us through.
”For now we will do what we do. The other stuff happening is outwith our control. All we can do is represent our country as well as we can and play with pride.”
Did you talk about it in camp?
”No. We are here to try and get our country where it should be rugby wise.”
You get the picture. Still, when the questions finally got around to the rugby, the picture didn’t immediately get any clearer with Vui unsure of tomorrow’s venue. “Murrayfield…isn’t it?”
Still, the fact that Samoa are in a transitional phase is not in doubt, with a new coach, Fuimaono Tafua, alongside a new captain, the pair have work to do.
Two years ago, Samoa contested the World Cup as second seed in Pool B and very nearly beat Scotland in Newcastle before falling 36-33. Fast forward to the present and Samoa, ranked ten places below the Scots in 16th, have a play-off scheduled next summer just to reach RWC’19 after finishing behind Fiji and Tonga in the Oceania qualifiers.
Vui is quite right to point to Samoa’s unique standing in world rugby. The tiny islands have produced a string of outstanding players, but, like Vui, most of them are born in New Zealand who get first dibs on the best. Vui himself played for the Junior All Blacks, although he is proud to lead Samoa even if they are not the force they once were.
“Obviously we were up here,” Vui hold his hand high in the air, “a few years ago and we have come back down here,” and the hand drops to signify Samoa’s fall. “Our sole focus is to get our country back to where it should be.”
That will be easier said than done because, even without a slew of first-choice players, the Scots should prove too strong for tomorrow’s visitors. What does Vui expect from Gregor Townsend’s team?
“We have had a look at how they play,” says the quietly spoken skipper.
“They are a real fit team. It should be an open running game and they will bring physicality.
“We saw them play Fiji in the last tour and they really brought some physicality which you don’t see often so we are expecting a real open game with real physicality.”
The captain’s place in front of the media is taken by Toulouse winger Paul Perez who is protesting that he has nothing to say before he has even sat down.
Perez was the winger who was called back for a foot in touch when about to score a brilliant interception try back in 2012 when Scotland sneaked a fortunate win in Apia. Replays showed his foot was nowhere near the whitewash.
“I am still angry about it,” he says with a broad smile on his face. “It [the game] would have been a different story.”
And then the inevitable question – are the union’s money troubles a distraction?
”No,” Perez replies. “We just do it for the jersey and our loved ones back home…I don’t know what to say.”