Samoans say expectations are low in ‘rebuilding phase’

Samoa's Rey Lee-Lo is tackled by Mark Bennett of Scotland during the 2015 World Cup at St James' Park, a game which the Scots edged 36-33. Picture: Getty
Samoa's Rey Lee-Lo is tackled by Mark Bennett of Scotland during the 2015 World Cup at St James' Park, a game which the Scots edged 36-33. Picture: Getty
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Some players pile on the pounds after they retire while others lose a little muscle but remain fighting fit. John Schuster is in the latter camp, a splash of Grecian 2000 and he looks like he could pull his boots on and do a job. Instead he is part of the new management team that is trying to haul Samoa out of the mire.

Schuster, pictured inset, is a double international, appearing for New Zealand, where he moved as a teenager, before representing Samoa the land of his birth. He built up a fearsome reputation in the All Blacks midfield alongside “Smokin’ Joe” Stanley but quit union for the paid ranks of rugby league when his stock was high after just ten appearances in black.

With rules on eligibility a little flexible in those days, Schuster returned to play three times for Samoa at the age of 35 in an attempt to make the World Cup squad of 1999 but failed.

His record with Samoa reads, lost one, won one, drew one and he would settle for the same this November with the islanders facing Scotland, Romania and England in successive weekends. The tour is being viewed simply as a warm-up for the nation’s World Cup play-off next summer because Samoa have no games scheduled between now and next June.

“We’ll be fielding a fairly inexperienced side,” Schuster talks in a whisper, “and obviously [with] the new coaching staff. We are in a rebuilding phase with an emphasis on our qualifier in June.

“With everyone new on board, it’s important that we finish this tour knowing the players that we can field for that qualifier in June because that’s our biggest aim at the moment.

“It [the build-up] has been extremely difficult, it’s very disruptive in terms of preparation but we do our best. We have had four sessions leading into Scotland where we have had all our players on board.

“It’s very disruptive but it is what it is and we just have to deal with it and hope that we can put together on Saturday what we can hope to put out.”

Schuster seems like a man who lets his emotions seep rather than bubble to the surface of his inscrutable face. When asked about the vexed question of Samoan rugby’s parlous financial situation the hint of a smile ghosts over his eyes if not his mouth.

“It’s almost like becoming a norm for us to operate in those circumstances,” he said.

The last four matches between these two teams have been nip and tuck, Scotland winning three of them by a combined total of seven points, Samoa winning that triangular match in South Africa by a total of ten. It would be nice to think that today’s match will be similarly close but Samoa are a long way off their best as Schuster tacitly admits.

“We’ve drawn nothing from those previous experiences,” he insists. “It’s almost like a new start for this team. Just putting out a good performance, that is our aim for this week. We are hoping that a good performance ends in the right result for us but so long as we put out a good performance then we are competing and we are seeing the improvements as a team.”