Marcus Smith will be a marked man if he lines up at full-back again against Samoa next week with the Pacific islanders wary of the threat posed by England’s attacking livewire.
Samoa go into Saturday’s match without any realistic hopes of reaching the knockout stages but can seal third spot in the pool to guarantee qualification for the 2027 World Cup. More than that, however, locking horns with England gives them the opportunity to claim a major scalp in a rare encounter with one of the established nations.
Japan’s victory over Samoa last Thursday ensured England will go through to the quarter-finals as pool winners but Steve Borthwick is still likely to field a strong side with the knockout stages in mind. That could mean Smith gets another shot at full-back and Samoa are on red alert for the 24-year-old playmaker, according to their No 15 Duncan Paia’aua, who scored his side’s second try in the 22-28 defeat by Japan.
“He played amazingly at full-back [against Chile],” said Paia’aua. “He had a bit of freedom with the ball. He’s a natural runner. If you give him a little bit of freedom he’s going to do something special. If he starts at full-back again we’ll give him a little bit.”
After selecting a clutch of former All Blacks, who are available due to World Rugby’s decision to change its eligibility criteria in November 2021, Samoa harboured high hopes of reaching the knockout stages in France. Narrow defeats by Argentina and Japan have ultimately proved their undoing but Paia’aua believes they can take heart from how their fellow Pacific islanders Fiji defeated England at Twickenham last month.
“We’re an underdog in this tournament and everyone loves an underdog story,” he added. “We want to beat England more than anything, so we’ll put everything into the last game and hopefully get the result. It’s like a cup final for us. Those are the games that we live for. We want to play against the best, we want to be the best but as a Tier 2 nation we’re not lucky enough to have all the resources the Tier 1 nations have. What we do have is a lot of pride for our country. We want to do what Fiji is doing, beat those Tier 1 nations and close that gap a little bit more.
“It motivates us so much because if they can do it we can do it. Us Pacific islanders, we might go to war on the field but we’re always backing each other. To see them doing so good, to see a Tier two nation in the Pacific doing so well, is only going to motivate us and put more belief in the boys. If one of the Pacific islander teams is playing another country we’re always backing that Pacific island team. We’ll all be watching and supporting. Big love for our Pacific island nations. So happy to see them doing well.”
Samoa have never beaten England but showed their pedigree over the summer by defeating Japan and running Ireland close in Bayonne, eventually going down 17-13 to the world No 1 side. “It showed against Ireland, the boys really want to play those sort of games,” said Paia’aua.
“The more games like that we can play against the Tier 1 nations the better our country will get. We just need more time together. England have the Six Nations, the Wallabies have the Rugby Championship, we only have the PNC [Pacific Nations Cup], like two or three weeks together, every year. It’s hard for us to get Test matches.”
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN/PACNEWS