WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Samoa’s rugby team have a double motivation heading into their Rugby World Cup qualifier against Germany on Saturday, with the country’s Prime Minister berating them for a run of defeats and telling them to quit if they lose.
Samoa, who often enthral the World Cup with their high-octane physical play, have been thrust into the ignominy of the playoff, with the first leg at Apia Park on Saturday (kickoff 0215 GMT), after they failed to finish in the top-two places in the Pacific Nations Cup over 2016-17.
Fiji and Tonga automatically qualified from Oceania for next year’s tournament in Japan.
After losing again to Fiji and Tonga earlier this month, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said he was tired of the team’s losing run. Their last win was a 25-23 victory over Canada in late 2016.
“I said, if you don’t win this game then you all have to resign from the team,” the Samoa Observer reported Malielegaoi, who is also the Samoa Rugby Union Chairman, as telling his Parliament earlier this week after he had visited the team.
“I told them that it would be better to let the kids playing in the Super 9 to represent the Manu Samoa if they can’t handle it.
“You played 10 games and you lost in all of those 10 games, so what does that tell me, you have no guts.”
Samoa captain Chris Vui said the criticism, not just from the Prime Minister but ordinary fans in the tiny Pacific nation, had hit home and would galvanise his side for the two-legged playoff, with the second leg in Germany on July 14.
“We want to keep going and to keep fighting until the end,” Vui told the newspaper earlier this week.
“There is a future for this team. It may not be now but Samoan rugby is a world class international team.
“We take the feedback and ... move on.”
Samoa struggled in their clashes against their fellow Pacific nations earlier this month but the mostly professional side should still prove too strong for the Germans, who beat Portugal 16-13 in Heidelberg two weeks ago to make the playoff.
Pablo Lemione’s team, however, only got that far after Romania, Spain and Belgium were all docked points for fielding ineligible players repeatedly during qualifying.
Romania had initially clinched the second European qualifying spot, behind the already qualified Georgia, but after an independent review discovered the ineligible players, Russia was promoted instead.
Germany won just two of their eight qualifying matches over the course of the two years of the Rugby Europe Championship and conceded more than 50 points five times.
The winner of the playoff enters Pool A at the World Cup with the hosts, Ireland, Scotland and Russia.
The loser enters the four-team repechage tournament, which will be held in France in November, for the final spot in the World Cup.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty