Manu Samoa


Monday, 18 June 2007

The History

The national rugby union team of Samoa is called Manu Samoa (the name of a famous Samoan chief some 10 generations ago). They perform a traditional Samoan dance called the siva tau before each game. They are members of the Pacific Islands Rugby Alliance (PIRA) along with Fiji and Tonga. They are ranked 11th in the world. They have recently been bankrolled by millionaire Sir Michael Fay, one of New Zealand's wealthiest men.Rugby was introduced to Samoa in the early 1920s and a governing body was soon formed.

The first international was played as Western Samoa against Fiji in August of 1924. Along with Tonga, these nations would meet regularly and eventually contest competitions such as the Pacific Tri-Nations - with Western Samoa winning the first of these. Samoa have been to every Rugby World Cup since the 1991 tournament. That tournament, along with the 1995 competition saw them make the quarter-finals.

Under their new coach, the All Blacks legend Michael Niko Jones (himself of Samoan descent and a Samoan international) they are working hard to create a side that will compete effectively in the 2007 Rugby World Cup where they are grouped with England, South Africa, Tonga and the United States.

The Manu Samoa team play in blue and white uniforms

The Marist Brothers brought the game to Western Samoa in 1920 and The Western Samoa Rugby Football Union was formed in 1924. On August 18, 1924 Western Samoa played its first international against Fiji in the capital Apia, the visitors winning 6-0. The match was played at 7am to allow the Samoans time to get to work afterwards and was played on a pitch with a large tree on the halfway line. The return match was won 9-3 by Samoa to draw the series.

In 1954 Western Samoan visited both Pacific Island neighbours Fiji and Tonga but waited a further 20 years before a tour of New Zealand took place. The Samoans won one of eight matches on that tour.The traditional tri-series between Tonga, Fiji and Western Samoa was established in 1982 with Western Samoa winning the first tournament. Wales visited Western Samoa and won the test 32-16 at Apia. The tour led to a return visit to Wales which brought Western Samoa out of International limbo, although Western Samoa were not invited to the first Rugby World Cup in 1987.The following year a 14-match tour of Europe took place before a World Cup elimination series in Tokyo, which gave Western Samoa a place in the 1991 Rugby World Cup in Britain.

They made a huge impact. After sweeping aside Wales 16-13 in Cardiff and defeating Argentina 35-12, and narrowly losing 3-9 to eventual champions Australia in their pool match, Western Samoa, a country with a population of 160,000, found itself in the quarterfinals against Scotland at Murrayfield. The Scots, however won comfortably, 28-6, but the Samoans were clearly the personality team of the tournament.Over the next two years the side had a number of notable wins. The most outstanding achievement were in Sevens where it won the 1993 Hong Kong and 1992 Middlesex Sevens.

The 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa proved that the team belonged in top company. They again reached the quarterfinals after wins over Argentina and Italy, but were beaten 42-14 by the eventual winners South Africa. After the Cup, Manu Samoa made a 13-match tour of England and Scotland, drawing 15-15 with the Scots and going down 9-27 to England.With the advent of professional rugby in 1995 it was vital for Manu Samoa to developed a new administrative structure.

This was made possible with Fay Richwhite and the Western Samoan Rugby Union joining forces to form Manu Samoa Rugby Limited, which now manages business for the team. Samoa emerged from the 1999 Rugby World Cup with honour intact after another shock 38-31 victory over host nation Wales in the pool stages. They again lost out to Scotland in the quarter final play-off.Manu Samoa qualified for the 2003 Rugby World Cup with a 17-16 defeat by Fiji, Earl Va’a missing an injury-time penalty. They recovered to beat Tonga both home and away and avenged that Fijian defeat with a 22-12 win in Nadi. They ultimately had to settle for second place in the round robin, behind Fiji on points difference, and a place in the tougher of the two Rugby World Cup 2003 pools alongside automatic qualifiers England and South Africa. In one of the games of the tournament they led eventual champions England for most of the game before losing 22-35.

The New Zealand ConnectionWestern Samoa's triumph in the 1991 Rugby World Cup was inspired by their coach Bryan Williams who had been the first Samoan-born player to transfer his allegiance to the All Blacks. Since Williams many Samoans have pursued their rugby careers in New Zealand provincial rugby and the best of these have been snapped up by the All Blacks.

However, many of these players have been educated in New Zealand from an early age, developing their rugby skills within the very challenging New Zealand secondary schools competition. Malili Muliaina, Jerry Collins, Isaia Toeava and Casey Laulala are just four of the many Samoan-born players who have chosen to represent New Zealand, after having been educated there.In recent times New Zealanders of Samoan descent have been key members of the All Blacks squad, including past New Zealand captain Tana Umaga.

In some Test matches on their 2005 Grand Slam tour of the Home Nations New Zealand fielded a side packed with players of Samoan descent. New Zealand born players with Samoan parentage have also played for Samoa, such as Earl Va'a, Pat Lam and Lome Fa'atau.The rugby relationship that exists between New Zealand and Samoa is undoubtedly a complex one. Close ties exist between the two countries, these bonds first being formed with the start of mass Polynesian migration to New Zealand in the latter half of the twentieth century. Naturally, many players eligible for Samoa have chosen to play for the All Blacks, recognising the obvious potential for financial and sporting rewards. Also, unfortunately, because of current international eligibilty laws, many Samoans who commit themselves to playing for the All Blacks find that they are unable to play for the smaller nation when their dreams of pulling on the black shirt are unrealised.


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