Friday braced for 'stern challenge' from balanced Samoa

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 March, 2005, 12:00am

Demonstrating plenty of tricks and a measure of power and pace, seventh seeds Samoa will present England with another headache tonight, said England coach Mike Friday.

Even without star player Semo Sititi, a last-minute withdrawal from the squad when he broke his jaw in an English Premiership match for Harlequins last week, the Samoans look well worth a place in the quarter-finals with three convincing wins over Italy, Taiwan and Georgia yesterday.

'Samoa have impressed me, they've got a very balanced side with lots of pace and lots of power,' said Friday, who cannot afford another slip-up after England lost to France late last night.

'We were wary of them before the tournament started, we knew they had strengthened their squad with the Super 12 players they have brought in. It will be a very stern challenge for us. We'll need to be at 100 per cent of our ability,' Friday said.

Led by inspirational stalwart Brian Lima, the Samoans opened their campaign with a 28-10 win against Italy. They looked even sharper in their second appearance, giving Taiwan no chance in a 35-0 win. Against an awkward Georgia team, Paul Perez ran in a first half hat-trick in a 36-7 triumph.

David Lemi, among the leading scorers in the 2004-05 IRB Sevens series, scored three tries and six conversions in the two opening matches before being rested for the third against Georgia. 'It's what we were looking for the first day, to secure ourselves three good wins,' said Samoa coach John Schuster.

'We want to build on that for the rest of the tournament. We are happy with the way things are going. There are a lot of positives. Well take each game as it comes. On paper we are supposed to be superior than the smaller teams we played today. But we don't underestimate anyone. It was very important to set the level today. I feel we did that.

'Our main aim is to win the pool. It's our objective. England are going to be a major hurdle for us. But realistically I think we could beat England and France to finish top. It's going to take a lot to beat England. We really need to be at our very best. But we are setting ourselves up nicely for it [the match],' said Schuster, a Hong Kong Sevens champion with New Zealand in 1989.

In the previous IRB tournament in Los Angeles, Samoa lost in the quarter-finals to England before reaching the plate final, where they were edged out by Fiji. They have reached the cup quarter-finals in all four tournaments of the IRB series so far.