Samoa targets NZ's Super Rugby stars for World Cup
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Samoa’s struggling national rugby team are rebuilding for next year’s Rugby World Cup and determined to cement a place among the game’s elite, new coach Steve Jackson said Tuesday.
The Pacific Islanders have slipped to 16th in the world rankings and needed to win a play-off against minnows Germany to secure a spot at next year’s tournament in Japan.
But New Zealander Jackson, who was appointed last week, said he was relishing the prospect of revamping the team less than a year out from rugby’s global showpiece.
“We’re excited about the Rugby World Cup,” he told Radio Sport.
“We’ve got nothing to lose and I’m sure there are teams that probably doubt us because of the position that we’re in. It’s a good starting point for us.”
Jackson, a former New Zealand Maori lock who coached at provincial level and was an assistant at the Blues, said he wanted Samoa to be a top 10 rugby nation.
“We’ve let ourselves slip and most people can see that,” he said.
“So that’s where we want to be, to cement ourselves in that top 10… there’s a bit of work to do to get there and we understand that.”
Jackson said he hoped to recruit New Zealand-based Super Rugby players with Samoan roots who had not quite made the grade for the All Blacks.
“There’s a raft of players in Super Rugby in New Zealand who, as we all do when we’re kids, strive to be an All Black,” he said.
“It’s got to be my job to open the door and show them the opportunity to play in a Rugby World Cup for the other country [Samoa], whether it be by birth or through their parents.”
While he did not name any players, Jackson said he had been in discussions with some potential candidates “who are starting to swing a bit” at the thought of using Japan as a shop window.
“It’s the opportunity we can give some of these players,” he said.
“It opens up a whole new world for them financially and in terms of securing themselves and their families after the Rugby World Cup if they do well.”
Samoa has a proud rugby history and has been involved in some of the great World Cup upsets.
In 1991, playing as Western Samoa, they stunned tournament co-hosts Wales before a disbelieving crowd at Cardiff Arms Park.
The joke at the time was that the Welsh were glad to have only been playing Western Samoa, not the whole Pacific nation.
After changing their name to Samoa, the islanders inflicted more pain on Wales, this time at Cardiff’s newly-minted Millennium Stadium at the 1999 World Cup.
However, since then they have failed to emerge from the pool stages despite some creditable one-off performances.