Scotland v Samoa: South Sea pride at stake in Test

Despite every appearance of being some sort of paradise on earth, Samoa has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

At the risk of being trite about such a complex issue, a partial explanation offered by one Samoan is that kids who are reprimanded by parents in public find it impossible to live with the shame.

The point is that Samoans are an extraordinary proud people – although pride barely seems adequate enough a word to cover it.

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Their rugby team doesn’t get the opportunity to play many tier one nations and hardly ever at home.

But then “home” is a moveable feast because there are considerably more Samoans around the globe than there are in Samoa.

Traditionally, canoes were the status symbols (think Range Rovers with better fuel consumption) but airline tickets have now taken their place.

Samoan rugby players are the modern equivalent of Jesuit missionaries, only rugby rather than religion (or possibly rugby and religion) is their global message.

Everyone knows the immense impact Samoans have had on the All Blacks but such is their reach that they have even penetrated the rugby nation least similar to theirs in terms of culture, climate and geography – Scotland.

Lome Fa’atau, Justin Va’a and, more recently, current Samoan skipper David Lemi have all turned out for Glasgow.

Opeta Palepoi and Semo Sititi played for the Borders, with the former still doing a shift for Gala and having named his Scottish-born son “Wallace”. Now there’s a project signing for the SRU! Meanwhile, a former Samoan great in the shape of Pat Lam coached the Scottish forwards before and during the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

The time difference between Scotland and Samoa is 12 hours, the temperature difference is substantially more than 12 degrees and yet Samoans have made their mark on Scottish rugby.

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Scotland’s visit is helping return the favour but securing a victory will not be easy. Samoa are on a high after winning the Pacific Nations Cup in Tokyo with three wins out of three. The islanders had to fight back from 16-0 down against Japan last Sunday but that is what Samoa do best – fight back. They are never happier than when up against the odds and they will have one more thing spurring them on come the weekend.

“This month has been a memorable month because this has been the 50th anniversary of our independence,” said skipper Lemi. The island’s actual birthday was back on 1st June and UB40 played a gig at the Apia Stadium.

Lemi added: “For us we just play our part as a rugby team and, if the result comes our way, it’s just a bonus. This is a big, big test for us. It’s a big step up from the Pacific Nations Cup. This is an opportunity to play against a tier one nation.

“Scotland is a good side, we are lucky to have a side like Scotland come all this way to play against our people, so it’s a good opportunity for us to compete against a tier one nation.”

Lemi insists that he enjoyed his time at Glasgow, the six months feeling more like two years so warm was the welcome he received. The little winger knows a good percentage of the Scotland squad but insists that the inside information won’t help Samoa much. Players and systems change in the heat of a Test match so knowing what Chris Cusiter might do on a wet night at Firhill will have little bearing on the Test in Apia.

More important, perhaps, is the fact that both teams are in a rebuilding stage after the World Cup although it’s worth noting, Samoa are still four places above the visitors in the IRB rankings.

Scotland have a new backs coach and a new-look back line for him to play with. Samoa jettisoned any number of big names after the World Cup and this squad, unusually, boasts nine domestic players alongside the usual New Zealand-based stars.

“The ranking is there but we can’t underestimate the Scots,” says Lemi. “They are a good side, good professional rugby players compared to our team where some of us are professional and some of us are amateur in Samoa.

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“It is unusual (having so many domestic players). We’ve brought in some new players to develop, just in the last couple of years. We have a new management team and new players, so it’s a learning process for us, but the Test is a huge opportunity for us. Tier one games only come maybe once or twice a year.”

The last time these two teams met two years ago in Aberdeen anyone standing pitch-side was roped in to help shovel the snow off Pittodrie as the game went ahead in freezing conditions. Scotland won by just three points and one man has not forgotten the experience.

“Before I left Glasgow the boys asked me what was the weather like in Samoa in June and I said it’s the opposite of what you did to us in Aberdeen!”

The opposite result on Saturday would suit the proud skipper just fine.