With a physical approach that is both globally revered and feared, Samoa have entertained the world’s rugby community for decades and sealed some famous wins in both 15s and sevens.
World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee and current Samoa men’s sevens coach, Brian Lima, is widely regarded as one of the best players to ever run out for Manu Samoa. Lima, who earned himself the nickname of ‘The Chiropractor’ for his bone-shaking tackling ability, is currently both the men’s all-time leading appearance maker and try scorer.
Looking back on his 16-year international career and beyond, Lima recently shared his memories of five of the best wins in the history of Samoan rugby – two of which he started in.
Western Samoa edge Wales at Rugby World Cup 1991
Western Samoa opened their Rugby World Cup account with a famous 16-13 win over Wales at Cardiff Arms Park. Wales came third at Rugby World Cup 1987 in New Zealand, and were heavy favourites going into their opening Pool Three match.
“A lot of people in the world, even our country, they didn’t believe and they didn’t expect a good tournament from our team. The players within the team, they believed in themselves, that they could beat a tier one team like Wales,” Lima told World Rugby.
“Before the game, we were confident that we could beat Wales because of the players who had been selected. It was a mixture of local players from Samoa and experienced players who play rugby in New Zealand, but were all Samoan.”
Both sides scored two tries each, with To’o Vaega and Sila Vaifale crossing for Samoa.
But it was the kicking of scrum-half Mathew Vaea which saw Samoa record the first major upset in the history of Rugby World Cup with the 16-13 victory.
“During the match, all of the players played for each other and played for their country.
“For me, that match is one of the best moments in my rugby career. That match against Wales also put our country on the map.”
Winning first Cup final on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series
Samoa won their first Cup final on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at the 2007 Wellington Sevens, beating rivals Fiji in an all-time classic.
Led by Waisale Serevi, Fiji were the favourites heading into the final, but it was Samoa who struck first and early.
Mikaele Pesamino crossed for the opener less than a minute into the contest. Even though a gap opened up, it was the support play from Pesamino which made the try happen, and saw his side run out to a 7-0 lead early.
That’s the way the scores remained throughout an injury riddled first half, with both sides making the other work in defence.
Just after the break, Ofisa Trevarinus burst his way through the Fijian defence, which let his side double their advantage.
Soon after, Lui converted a penalty that meant that Fiji had to score three times to win the final, with the clock favouring Samoa.
Fiji managed to score back-to-back late tries, but it wasn’t enough; the penalty proved to be the history-making play for the Samoan sevens team, who won 17-14.
“Beating Fiji in the final, it was a really good effort … it’s one of the biggest moments for them [the Samoa sevens team],” said Lima.
History repeats in Cardiff
Eight years on from their famous win over Wales in Cardiff, history repeated itself when Samoa once again defeated their more fancied opponents at Rugby World Cup 1999.
Samoa opened their pool fixtures with a dominant 43-9 win over Japan, where Lima scored two tries. But after losing to Argentina by 16 points, Wales stood between them and automatic qualification for the quarter-finals.
After Samoa opening the scoring through a Silao Leaega penalty, Wales piled on the pressure by scoring 12 unanswered points.
But the underdogs clawed their way back into the contest, with an overthrow at the lineout seeing second-row Lio Falaniko score. Then, just before half-time, two tries from fly-half Stephen Bachop saw Samoa take a six-point lead into the break.
Penalties from Wales fly-half Neil Jenkins kept the hosts in the match, seeing them draw level on more than one occasion.
With the scores locked and with just under 20 minutes to play, and with the Welsh crowd in full voice, Samoa mounted an attack that would eventually decide the match.
Inside the Welsh 22, Lima broke down the right-hand side and was tackled, but managed to pop a pass up to Leaega who scored in the corner. The full-back also managed to convert his try to give his side a 38-31 lead, which wouldn’t change for the remainder of the test.
“Setting up that last try with Silao Leaega scoring in the corner, it was an opportunity [that we took]. He ended up scoring a try and kicked the conversion.”
Samoa win first HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title
Samoa had never won a HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title, but heading into the final leg of the 2009-10 season in Edinburgh, there was plenty of belief that that was about to change. Samoa had won three of seven events heading into the Scottish leg of the Series and had come second in another two.
All Samoa had to do to win was qualify for the Cup final in Edinburgh, with New Zealand still in the race for the Series title.
Samoa’s push for the title got off to a good start, beating Kenya 42-5. But shaky performances followed, scraping past France 28-26 before losing to Argentina 31-10. Three teams finished equal with two wins and one loss, but Samoa topped the Pool A standings on points difference.
After beating South Africa 19-0 in the quarter-finals, Samoa’s biggest challenge came one victory away from winning it all.
In the semi-final against England, a late try gave Ben Gollings the chance to kick his side into a Cup final after the siren, and potentially end Samoa’s chances of a maiden HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series crown, but his conversion attempt hit the upright.
Samoa went on to win the match in extra time, with Lui converting a penalty to win 15-12. In the other semi-final, Australia got the better of rivals New Zealand, winning 24-19.
Samoa won the final in convincing fashion, defeating Australia 41-14.
“That year in 2010, those players had played together as a team for a long time, and they were mature enough, had experience, and ended up winning the World Series.
“Winning the Series is one of the biggest achievements for the sevens team in Samoa.”
Samoa shock world number two Australia in Sydney
Samoa journeyed to Sydney to take on a much fancied Wallabies side, who were preparing for the 2011 Tri Nations and the Rugby World Cup later that year.
But instead it was the team from the small island nation who would take the day and shock rugby fans worldwide with a win over the then number two side in the world.
Samoa got off to a perfect start at ANZ Stadium, with a runaway try from winger Alesana Tuilagi seeing the visitors lead 10-0 in as many minutes. 17 minutes later, Paul Williams scored for the increasingly confident away side.
Wallabies winger Digby Ioane did cross for a try just before half-time, but two Samoan tries to one after the break saw the visitors hang on for a famous victory.
“Beating Australia in Australia, it’s a big achievement for the Manu Samoa team, especially because Australia is one of the best teams in the world.
“They gave it their best and they believed in themselves that they could beat Australia. They used all the opportunities that they got and they scored tries. They didn’t want to lose to them when they saw this opportunity to beat them.”