Pat Lam: Rising To The Occasion At Rugby World Cup 2015

Pat Lam talks about his experience of the Rugby World Cup and how the tournament seems to bring the best out of the Pacific Island nations Opportunities for Samoa to
01 Jan 2015 12:03
Pat Lam: Rising To The Occasion At Rugby World Cup 2015
Photo: World Rugby

Pat Lam talks about his experience of the Rugby World Cup and how the tournament seems to bring the best out of the Pacific Island nations

Opportunities for Samoa to measure ourselves against the top tier teams remain somewhat limited and a World Cup is a rare time when we can test ourselves against the game’s big guns on a global stage, says Samoa great Pat Lam.

For me, it was an amazing experience to play in three Rugby World Cups. My international career got off to a hell of a start when on my debut we famously beat Wales 16-13 in Cardiff. We were desperate to show the world what Samoan rugby was all about and I think we achieved that in ’91. We subsequently broke into the top eight in the rankings and although we lost to Scotland in the quarter-final, Samoan rugby was on a massive high.

We backed it up in 1995 in South Africa by reaching the last eight again after wins over Italy and Argentina in the pool stages. People had expectations of the team by then but I thought we dealt with the pressure well and there was no disgrace in going out to the Springboks at Ellis Park in the quarters.

In 1999 we came up against Wales in Cardiff again. We were the underdogs but we won the game 38-31 and became the first team to beat Wales in a test match at the new Millennium Stadium.

It was a huge privilege to skipper the team in Cardiff and although we lost to Scotland in the quarter-final play-off game at Murrayfield – my last test – the World Cup in 1999 was another great advert for the country and our brand of rugby.

It is disappointing Samoa has not made it to the quarter-finals since 1995 but I think you have to be realistic. We don’t have the resources of the major teams and the World Cup has become more and more competitive with every staging of the tournament.

Heart and soul

The World Cup in 1991 inevitably brings back memories of our captain Peter Fatialofa and it was a very sad day for everyone who knew Peter when we heard he had died in late 2013. He was only 54 and he will be sorely missed.

It’s impossible to exaggerate how central Peter was to what we achieved in ‘91. His job description might have been captain but he was much more than that to everyone in the squad: he was the heart and soul of the side. He brought people together, he could relate to young and old alike and he always had an enormous smile on his face. He put Samoan rugby on the map but he did it with real modesty and a sense of humour.

I’m cautiously optimistic about Samoa’s chances at Rugby World Cup 2015. I genuinely believe Stephen Betham and his team are capable of doing something special in England. South Africa will be the favourites to win the pool but Samoa are certainly capable of beating Scotland, Japan and the USA to go through as runners-up. We beat the Scots in Durban in 2013, we’ve won three of the last four games against Japan, all of which were in Tokyo, and Samoa has never lost to the Americans.

Historic visit

Preparations for RWC 2015 received a massive boost when it was announced that New Zealand will play in Apia in July.

It will be the first time the All Blacks face Samoa in Samoa and the whole country is hugely excited about the match.

To have the world’s number one team come to Apia will be one of the greatest days in the history of our rugby and every Samoan player wherever they are in the world will be desperate to be involved.

I hope it will also encourage other top teams to play in Samoa and Tonga and Fiji in the future. Not only would such games generate much-needed revenue for the unions, it would present us with the opportunity to tackle higher ranked sides with home advantage. We invariably have to travel for the big matches and I think there’d be some interesting results if teams from the Six Nations or The Rugby Championship travelled to the Pacific Islands.

A World Cup tends to bring out the best in Samoa, Fiji and Tonga. Having the luxury of spending time together in camp has enabled all three to claim some famous scalps over the years. Tonga made the headlines in 2011 when they beat the French in Wellington. It was an incredible performance which showed the potential of the ‘Ikale Tahi. Although they’ve pulled the short straw and will be in the same pool as the All Blacks again in 2015, I would expect them to give Argentina a real test in the battle for second place.

Fiji’s best performance in the World Cup was in 2007 when they beat Wales in Nantes and they then pushed the Springboks close in the quarter-finals. Fiji have the toughest draw of the three Pacific Islands in 2015 with England, Australia and Wales all in the same pool but they’re a dangerous side to underestimate and I wouldn’t rule out them causing an upset.

There’s certainly a camaraderie between the three teams when we’re not playing each other.

It’s a sense of the three sides representing Polynesia on the world stage and if Samoa is not able to reach the quarter-finals in 2015, I hope our brothers from Fiji or Tonga can qualify.



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