By Lee Stace
WHEN PLAYERS in the Samoan and Tongan squads dissect their respective Rugby World Cup campaigns in the coming days, they will look back, shake their heads and think ‘what if?’
A lot was made – and expected – of these two Pacific Island teams, mainly because of Samoa’s sensational upset win against the Wallabies in Sydney in July and Tonga’s heroics on rugby’s big stage four years ago in France.
And with the tournament being held in New Zealand, a virtual home base for these two teams given the large number of Samoans and Tongans living in Aotearoa, there was hope that these two teams would rattle a few cages.
Unfortunately, it never happened, with both Samoa and Tonga underperforming and failing to make it past the pool stage.
Granted, the Manu was superb in its final pool match against South Africa, pushing the defending champions hard before going down 13-5 at North Harbour Stadium last Friday.
But against Wales it played within itself, opting to abandon its natural attacking instincts for a game plan that relied heavily upon structure and the pick and go.
Had it shown the same attacking endeavour it showed against the Boks in its crucial pool match against Wales, then Samoa may well be preparing itself for a quarter-final showdown against Ireland in Wellington this Saturday.
It was a similar situation for Tonga, who will be ruing its loss to Canada as it ultimately cost it a playoffs berth. Coach Isitola Maka got his selection horribly wrong for that game and his side paid the ultimate price for its lacklustre effort.
The Ikale Tahi at least finished their tournament on a high by tipping over an out-of-sorts France in Wellington last Saturday.
But given Tonga had nothing to lose, why on earth did it not chance its arm and try for the four-try bonus point?
Maybe it thought automatic 2015 RWC qualification was a more tangible goal. But with France offering nothing for much of the match, a prime opportunity to secure second position in Pool A went begging.
But that has been the story of Samoa’s and Tonga’s tournament in 2011, hasn’t it?
There are plenty of mouth-watering clashes on offer this weekend.
Which player was unlucky to miss out on the All Blacks’ wider training squad?
Gordon Tietjens’ success in sevens is unrivalled and should place him in the same coaching league as Sir Alex Ferguson.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen named a 38-man training squad and there are a couple of oversights worth highlighting