When Samoa’s pack destroyed Fiji’s scrum on Eden Park last weekend, the Springboks were taken aback.
In World Cups past, Samoa was happy if the scrum stayed up long enough to be a launching pad for their lethal loose forwards and backs. But this year, it has become a legitimate weapon for the Samoans, who are desperate to pull off the big win they need on Friday over defending champions South Africa to reach the World Cup quarterfinals.
Certainly the South Africans, who have produced master scrummagers for more than a century, are on alert.
“The one thing that stood out in that game was how good Samoa were at scrum time,” Bok coach Peter de Villiers noted. “They annihilated the Fiji scrums. So that’s a bit of bother for us.”
Samoa’s pack has enjoyed a strong World Cup, taking three tightheads against Namibia, one against Wales, and three more over Fiji. The Samoans have lost their put-in only once, to Namibia.
“We’re definitely concentrating on it a lot more,” Samoa tighthead prop Anthony Perenise said.
A good grudge match
New Zealand-born Perenise, who committed to Samoa last year just before he turned 28, said they weren’t doing anything special in training or even doing more practice scrums than usual under Auckland Blues scrum coach Mike Casey. Instead, they were getting the basics down and going into each match like every other team with a mindset to dominate their opposition, and managing to achieve it.
“Fiji, they have a strong scrum when they want to scrum and they showed a couple of times, but it all, for us, comes down to attitude,” Perenise said on Tuesday.
So how was the attitude this week?
“This is our recovery day but a lot of the boys have already started doing their homework. It’s going to be a good grudge match.”
It’s safe to say the Springboks don’t have reason to begrudge Manu Samoa. The Boks have scored 40 points or more in their previous World Cup blowouts against Samoa in 1995, 2003 and 2007.
“We’re pretty confident we want this more than them,” Perenise said. “You have to have confidence to go forward because this is a big challenge.”
The front row of Perenise, captain Mahonri Schwalger and Sakaria Taulafo started in the win over Australia before the Cup, then against Namibia and in the narrow loss to Wales here. Census Johnston, who has more caps than Perenise, Taulafo and unused prop Logovi’i Mulipola combined, started at tighthead against Fiji and was replaced by Perenise after half time.
‘A big unit’
Perenise, Taulafo and Johnston will head to Europe after the World Cup. After part-time work with the Otago Highlanders and Wellington Hurricanes, Perenise will join Bath on a three-year contract. Taulafo returns to London Wasps and Johnston to Toulouse. Schwalger has also played in Britain, and the seemingly European influence on Samoa’s ruck-heavy tactics has not passed unnoticed, or without criticism.
Samoa hardly showed, against Wales or Fiji, much of the Polynesian flair it’s renowned for. Instead, the Samoans worked multiple phases and hardly spread the ball beyond midfield.
“People were saying it wasn’t exciting rugby [against Fiji] but for us a win is a win,” Perenise said. “It’s not about how many tries you score. The boys stuck to the game plan, stuck to the structures and came out on top.”
On Friday, he and his front-row partners will face brothers Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira. They are an all-Sharks combination familiar to the Samoans, who have also all played Super Rugby.
Perenise opposed Mtawarira in one of his first Super matches in 2007. Perenise scored a try set up by John Schwalger, the nephew of Mahonri, for the Wellington Hurricanes. He remembered the Beast as “a big unit”. Mtawarira is taller, Perenise was slightly heavier.
They chatted after the game, and Perenise said they got on well. The scrums, if he recalled right, were fairly even that day, though the Sharks won.
Perenise would be happy on Friday if there was at least parity in the scrums again, but a better result on the scoreboard. — Sapa-AP
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