Manu Samoa

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Thursday, 12 July 2007

Lima on the verge of RWC history


Seventeen years ago a shy 18-year-old made his international debut for Samoa, winning the first of 63 caps in a career that has taken this wing cum centre around the world and seen him described as his country’s greatest player of all time.

He may now be 35 and in the twilight of his career, but there is one final benchmark for the popular Brian Lima to set before he hangs up the boots to spend time with his family – playing in his fifth Rugby World Cup with Samoa.

Lima is already a member of the select club to have played in four World Cups – one that includes England prop Jason Leonard and Canada fly half Gareth Rees – but will create history by running out against South Africa in Paris on 9 September.

“It means a lot to me and if I get picked for the World Cup it is very special for me because I don’t think anyone played five World Cups,” Lima, who has scored 31 tries – 10 of them in World Cups – in his 63 Tests for Samoa, told Total Rugby Radio.

“I think the only reason if I make the World Cup is because of the training, keeping fit and also not too many major injuries. I think something I have looked forward to every year is to recondition my body and the challenge to make my career even longer.”

Only five players – all of them World Cup winners – can better Lima’s 16 appearances on the sport's biggest stage in South Africa’s Joost van der Westhuizen (17), All Black forwards Richard Loe and Sean Fitzpatrick and England pair Martin Johnson and Jason Leonard.

An icon of Samoa rugby
Samoa did not play in the inaugural World Cup in 1987 when Loe and Fitzpatrick triumphed, but Lima remembers watching the tournament unfold from his home and seeing a player with Samoan heritage help New Zealand lift the Webb Ellis Cup in Auckland.

“It was very special that I was in Samoa watching that World Cup and watching the final with New Zealand against France and all Samoa I think supported New Zealand because one of the Samoan players played that game,” recalled Lima.

“He [Michael Jones] played really well and also he scored a try in the final against France and now he is the coach of our team. I was here [Samoa] in 1987, watching a World Cup in New Zealand.”

Lima may have watched Jones on that day 20 years ago, but the regard in which the former All Black flanker holds a player who has started every one of Samoa’s World Cup matches was evident during last month’s IRB Pacific Nations Cup.

“It’s been a real honour and a privilege to have Brian in the Manu Samoa team,” Jones said before Lima’s final Test on home soil against Tonga. “He has been a wonderful asset; he’s such a consummate professional – a real icon of Samoan rugby.”

Many others would echo Jones’ tribute to Lima, a humble and down to earth individual who has played club or provincial rugby in New Zealand, Japan, France and England, not to mention helped Samoa enjoy a World Cup debut to remember.

Rising to the challenge
On that famous day Western Samoa – as they were then known – stunned Wales 16-13 at Cardiff Arms Park to cause the first real World Cup upset, one that understandably ranks highly in Lima’s highpoints across his four tournaments.

“Well I think when Samoa first appeared, first qualified for 1991 and we beat Wales and we beat Argentina. We were very close to beating Australia and also we made the quarterfinals,” enthused Lima.

“And also in the last World Cup when we played England and were very close to beating England in 2003 [they lost 35-22 in Melbourne]. I think they are the most special moments in my career for playing World Cups.”

Ironically Samoa have again been drawn in the same pool as England and South Africa in 2007, a challenge that Lima – who has scored at least two tries in each of his four previous World Cups – and his teammates are ready to rise to in France.

“For Samoa we will just go out and play to the best of our ability and play with the Tier 1 teams in a World Cup. I think we try our best to compete with those big rugby teams in the world.”

What price another Samoan upset on the World Cup stage to send their beloved Lima – also known as ‘The Chiropractor’ for his trademark bone crunching tackles – into retirement with a third quarterfinal appearance to savour?

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The opening round of Six Nations fixtures certainly didn’t disappoint. We had a tense thriller (Ireland 16 – 11 Italy), a shocking upset (England 19 – 26 Wales) - which must have cost the bookies in Wales a few quid, seen as though the Welsh were massive underdogs and not forgetting that the Taffies like a bit of Rugby Betting UK. Then there were the brave Scots; who went down 27-6 to France. So many parts of Scotland’s game were working well and all three of the French tries came from schoolboy errors by the Scots... I hope their confidence is still in tact because they actually played really well.