Samoa Observer

APIA, Samoa (March 29, 2010) - New Zealand has suffered five defeats in the 2009-2010 International Rugby Board (IRB) sevens World Series.

The problem for the Kiwis, though, is that each one was at the hands of Samoa.

And as a result of the latest defeat inflicted on the Land of the Long White Cloud, Samoa now heads the IRB points table, just three points clear of the Kiwis.

There are two tournaments remaining in the 2009-2010 series – in London and Edinburgh in early and late May. With Samoa on 124 points, New Zealand on 121 and Fiji a distant third on 94, it’s a two-horse race with a photo finish the only predictable outcome.

But what the rest of the rugby world is asking is: How can we compete with the Pacific islanders in sevens rugby?

For nearly two decades the abbreviated code was dominated by Fiji and New Zealand, the latter regularly peppering its side liberally with islanders, mainly but not exclusively Fijians.

But just as the world thought it had learned to contain the fast and flamboyant Fijians, along comes Samoa to re-impose island dominance – at least for this season (and, we hope, for much longer).

It would be ridiculous to suggest that Samoa is without flair but the style is more composed, more disciplined than, say, the Fijian runners of the late 1990s who took ridiculous risks with the ball – which admittedly often paid off.

At the same time New Zealand especially knew which hotheads could be relied on to retaliate to a needling in moments of stress. The yellow card came to be known as the Kiwis’ best weapon against the Fijians and they were never slow to use it.

Samoa, however, presents them with a much tougher problem. Their discipline throughout this series has been exemplary with the possible exception of Mai’s yellow carding yesterday morning – and that was for retaliation after what looked like very cynical provocation by New Zealand.

But that’s all part of the professional game now and Samoa have – apart from that lapse – been able to put up with it, stay composed and be totally focused.

With something like a quarter of the population of even Fiji, Samoa would be one of the smallest unions in the competition which makes this achievement all the more remarkable.

So is this Samoa’s year to bring home the world title?

Of course anything’s possible now with three back to back tournament victories under their belts but surely each meeting with New Zealand now increases the statistical likelihood of a defeat. If that’s so, let’s hope it happens in non-sudden death pool play.

On the other hand, statistics don’t win rugby games. Hearts, minds, courage and skills do that and Samoa has them all in bucket loads. So there is very good reason to hope.

For now, however, the boys get a whole month to recover from this strenuous campaign. It’s time to rest and recover – before preparing mentally and physically for the final tests ahead.

New Zealand has made no secret of their aim. It is to come home at the end of May with the world title and as captain D.J. Forbes remarked after the Hong Kong defeat, though disappointed they are still very much in the hunt. In boxing parlance one might say the two contestants are level on points with two rounds to go. Both will be keen to land a knock-out punch in London.

For now though all of Samoa will be waiting to welcome their team home.

It will be nothing short of a heroes’ welcome and it is richly deserved.

Go the Manu.

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