Scotland supporter lurking in Samoan side

ONE of the most potent dangers in the Samoa team that Scotland will face in Aberdeen on Saturday insisted yesterday that he supported the men in navy blue from his London base throughout the rest of the year.

• Seilala Mapusua in action against England last weekend. Picture: AFP

Seilala Mapusua has been one of the most powerful defenders and attackers, and slick off-loaders, in the English Premiership since he joined London Irish in 2006 after five seasons of Super12/14 rugby with Otago's Highlanders. Winning "Best Newcomer" and "Players' Player of the Year" awards in the Premiership, he has also become a lynchpin of a Samoan side that has brought greater organisation to its trademark physicality in the past three years.

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After finishing their first training session in Aberdeen yesterday, Mapusua was asked what he thought of Scotland. He replied: "I've actually been a Scottish rugby supporter every year during the Six Nations since I came up here (to the northern hemisphere].

"That's ruffled a few feathers in London, but that's nothing new for me, though. I think it's because, like the Samoans, they are always punching above their weight, and are always so close and sometimes miss out, but when they pull it off it's a huge achievement for them.

"Of this team, we have seen Dan Parks play and we know how dangerous he can be with the boot. I've been really impressed with Ross Ford. He's a quality player and a great leader for the forward pack. Nathan Hines also has a lot of experience and is still going strong. They are a quality team, especially with the player base they have to choose from."

Mapusua's family left Samoa for New Zealand when he was a young child, so he was schooled in the "Land of the Long White Cloud", which goes for general education and rugby at the prestigious Wesley College - a regular recruiter of island talent.

He came through the New Zealand age-grade ranks, from schools to under-21 level, playing alongside such illustrious All Blacks as Jonah Lomu, Mils Muliaina, Jerry Collins, Richie McCaw, Aaron Mauger and Carl Hayman, and even had an All Black trial against Tana Umaga - another Samoan - before switching his allegiance back to the land of his birth.

"Samoa is very important to me and the best decision of my rugby career was deciding to play for Samoa," he said. "It was the best thing I could have done; it was like coming home.

"I felt more relieved when I made the decision to play for Samoa.It also gave me the opportunity to represent my country at a World Cup which is the dream of most rugby players and what all these guys have their eyes on now."

Mapusua acknowledged that it was still a "logistical nightmare" bringing all the Samoan squad together, never mind work on moulding tactical strengths, with constraints in both hemispheres that put Andy Robinson's concerns over the release of England-based Scots into the shade.

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He also made the valid point that the IRB and their founder nations, such as Scotland, continue to shun Test matches in the South Seas, Scotland last playing Samoa away from home in Wellington, New Zealand in 2004, and Ireland being the last "Tier One" nation to tour Samoa, back in 2002, which brings an emptiness to those nations' claims to be building a global game.

He laughed when asked about the climatic difference, revealing that his team-mates had scrambled for as much training gear as they could lay their hands on to train outside in Aberdeen yesterday, adding that he would like to see how British nations and Ireland would cope playing his side in the heat of Samoa.

The inside centre, whose first visit to Scotland was in August when Irish lost to Edinburgh in a pre-season friendly, is a passionate individual and he also spoke warmly of the strong Scots- Samoan link through Robert Louis Stevenson, who died in Samoa and is buried on the South Seas island.

However, what was clear speaking with the vice-captain and members of the 28-man Samoan squad yesterday, only eight of whom play for club sides in their homeland and are not full-time professionals, was the belief they possess in the growing quality of this squad and the clear intent in the dark eyes, after relatively narrow defeats to Ireland and England, to finish their autumn tour in winning style this weekend.

"This tour is a great experience for players of all ages, especially for the young players making their debuts, and we've made some great strides over the last three weeks," said Mapusua. "But we haven't won any Test matches and that (winning] attitude is reflected in this whole team.

"I would say this is one of the strongest Samoan teams I've ever played in. We've had great teams in the past but this is probably one of the more balanced teams. In the past we've had great players who really stood out for their clubs here and in the southern hemisphere, but we have a good core of players here that have stuck together the last three or four years and really developed this team.

"There are a lot more full-time professionals now and that has a huge effect on the squad. We have made real progress on and off the field in terms of players looking after themselves and bringing professionalism and professional attitude to the national squad.It's been one of the more enjoyable teams to be a part of, just because of the way the guys are."

He added: "We knew at the start of the tour that we had three great opportunities and it's come to this, our last chance, and we really need to perform well but also to win for this team and Samoan rugby to move forward.

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"For us to break out of where we are at the moment we need to start winning Test matches against big teams."

Scotland have been warned.