By John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 11/11/13
Samoa can miss England and earn a quarter-final date with Fiji if they can get past France in Perpignan.
The Samoans started the World Cup slowly but have been building momentum and showed what they can do in patches against New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. A win over the French would help smooth their path to a potential semi-final berth.
Matt Parish’s message all along has been about getting better each week and that is the mantra from the Pacific Islanders. They have had to do without Frank Winterstein, Reni Maitua and Harrison Hansen for most of the tournament, but they have been able to bring in new some players, like Tony Pulueta, and stand-in captain Iosia Soliola has done a great job leading the side in Hansen’s absence.
Samoa is a team with a lot of powerful forwards and big, strong backs but they are weakest in the halves. If France are to get a result on home soil, this is where they must direct their pressure.
France edged the Kumuls and then were committed but ultimately crushed by a star-studded Kiwi team. They will need to improve several notches, particularly in attack where they have only scored two tries in the tournament, in order to compete with the Samoans.
The French have lucked structure and do not have the strength in depth their opponents have. Although, playing in the country’s top rugby league destination may help.
Perpignan, home to Super League’s Catalan Dragons, is a city that is rugby mad. Located in the south of France, smack bang on the border with Spain, it’s an old medieval town rich in culture and history.
Perpignan is doted with beautiful architecture; warm weather and the Stade Gilbert Brutus will be expected to be close to full for its sole World Cup fixture.
French crowds are renowned for their noise, colour and atmosphere they generate, and France will be hoping they can be their 14th man. Avignon was loud and proud for the New Zealand match and the 13,000 Stade Gilbert Brutus stadium should be in similar voice for Samoa.
French playmakers William Barthau, Thomas Bosc and Morgan Escare will need to be on their toes, and have an inch-perfect kicking game, to upset the Samoans. NRL-bound Remi Casty will have to get his forwards firing at their fullest to meet Samoa’s physicality.
Even if France do lift, I’m tipping Samoa to get the victory. With the sheer size of their team I don’t think the French will be able to stay with them for 80 minutes. Samoa to win by 12 points but France to not die wondering.
Leeson Ah Mau