When looking at some of the most-feared teams in world rugby, it would be easy to point towards the likes of New Zealand, with their history, or to South Africa, with the calibre of players currently available to them.

However, another team that not many enjoy coming up against is Samoa, who are famed for their aggression on the pitch and the fire and fearlessness with which they face up to their opponents. The country itself has a deep affection with the game and consider it to be their national sport, and there is no doubt that any match involving Manu Samoa is always worth keeping an eye on.

Head Coach

Since 2020, Samoa have been coached by former centre Seilala Mapusua, who represented the nation at the 2007 and 2011 editions of the Rugby World Cup. So far, it is an appointment that has worked wonders for the Samoan side, with them securing their place in France early on in the qualification process, following a double-header win against Pacific Islands rivals Tonga.

When looking at Samoa’s style of play under Mapusua, it’s clear that his reputation as an explosive centre who liked to get on the front foot and control games has trickled its way into the team’s performances during his tenure, with them set up in a way that facilitates fast-paced attacking play and encourages players to be tenacious both with and without the ball.

All in all, even though they do not have the greatest record at the World Cup, with their best performance coming back in 1991 and 1995 when they reached the quarter-final stages, they are never a team that makes life easy for their opponents and should never be taken lightly.

Attacking play

As mentioned, a lot of Samoa’s rugby DNA is based on being attacking and never allowing opponents to control the game. As such, they can be expected in France to dominate possession in games that they are the better side in and to press in numbers where needed in order to stop attacks being launched against them, and it would be a surprise if they didn’t force mistakes and capitalise on them from time to time.

They do also like to use the wings where they can, with Ed Fidow a particularly dangerous player to leave in any kind of space, and the team do have players who can make full use of gaps that appear in front of them. As a result, any side coming up against them will need to be especially watertight without the ball, as lacking an organised shape could see easy points given away to the Manu Samoa side.

Defensive play

As with any team that tries to be so front-footed, there are a few defensive issues that could catch Samoa out, and the fact that they conceded 22 points against Japan and 33 against Fiji in the 2023 edition of the Pacific Islands Cup shows that there are chances for opponents to exploit their weaknesses and to get points on the board.

With England, Argentina, Chile and Japan all having players capable of finding gaps and scoring points on their day, how Samoa set up out of possession to negate this problem will be interesting to keep an eye on, as not having a solid shape once they lose the ball could undo all of the positive attacking play that fans are expecting to see from them and could lead to them exiting the tournament in a disappointing manner.

Key players

As with a few of the Pacific Island nations taking part, Samoa have benefitted from the new World Rugby rules that have allowed players who haven’t featured for their national teams for a certain period of time to defect and be called up by another country.

As a result, Mapusua has been able to name experienced Toulouse prop Charlie Faumuina, Bristol Bears captain and flanker Steven Luatua, Lyon fly-half Lima Sopoaga and experienced standoff Christian Leali’ifano in his squad, giving him some good experience of rugby outside of the Southern Hemisphere and at high levels of the game, and that could be critical given where the tournament is taking place.

However, one name who really stands out and who will be critical to any hopes that Samoa have of winning matches is Theo McFarland. Ever since moving to Saracens in 2021, he has shown himself to be a vital cog in Director of Rugby Mark McCall’s setup, with his aerial threat at lineouts, ability to win the ball on the ground and spatial awareness constantly helping to get the team onto the front foot and into areas from which they can cause problems.

Samoa will hope that he can have the same impact when they get their own campaign underway, as he could make the difference in tight situations.

Tournament prediction

With them in a difficult pool that sees them face some of the top teams in the world, Samoa will find it tough to reach the knockout stages and to emulate those who achieved that feat back in the 1990s.

However, they are ranked 12th in the world as things stand, and that does show that they have what it takes to win big games and to trouble teams that might take them for granted, and there could be some teams, like England, perhaps sitting back and allowing them time on the ball.

If that were to happen, then it would not be a surprise to see Samoa pick up a surprise result or too and to finish higher than some might expect, and a third-placed finish would not be beyond them if they did manage to win matches against those who do underestimate their abilities.