Reigning champs find it's tough at the top

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am

Samoa have called for a rule allowing overseas-based players to be made available for national duty if they are not needed by their clubs, saying this would help countries with limited player resources.

'Teams like Samoa have professional players overseas and sometimes their season is over when we hit the tail end of the series, and it would be good if they could be available,' Samoa coach Stephen Betham said.

Samoa has a huge foreign legion plying their trade overseas, simply because of the financial benefits. They are lost for national duty most of the time because their clubs don't release them.

'The experience these players could bring would benefit the rest of the locally based players who we try to develop in these series,' Betham said.

Betham is also an advocate for using the entire bench in a match. At present, only three of the five can come on but with the International Rugby Board looking at increasing the number of legs when the reformatted series begins next season, most coaches are leaning towards using the full complement of reserves.

As coach of the defending champions of both the IRB Sevens series and the Hong Kong Sevens, however, the laidback Betham is pretty content with his lot. But Samoa have found out it is harder to stay at the top. After reaching the Cup final in Dubai at the opening leg in December, Samoa have lost in two subsequent semi-finals before bowing out in the quarter-finals in Las Vegas. England have been their nemeses beating them in Dubai as well as in both semi-finals.

'Luck is not going our way,' says Betham. 'We have reviewed our games against England and it was unfortunate we forced the last pass or we couldn't pick up the winning try. Maybe our decision-making has not been at its best, but we need to re-focus and not worry about it,'

Samoa are tied in third place with Fiji on 64 points, 16 behind joint-leaders England and New Zealand. At the halfway stage and with four tournaments to go, Samoa feel they have time to recover. 'I think we can turn it around. It will be important for the guys to settle down straight away in Hong Kong. We have three new players but at the same time we also have a lot of experienced ones coming back,' Betham said.

Samoa will miss 2010 IRB Player of the Year Mikaele Pesamino who has been left behind to recover from a niggling injury. But even without Pesamino, Samoa are threatening with players like forwards Ofisa Treviranus, Simaika Mikaele, Alafoti Fa'osiliva and Afa Aiono, while the timeless Uale Mai again features at scrum-half inside captain Lolo Lui. Tom Iosefo returns to the side to replace Pesamino on the wing and there is one new face, Fale Sooialo.

'The pressure has always been there, and it is no different even though we are the defending champions. It is getting a lot tougher to win with the rest of the world catching up. We know we have to come up trumps here otherwise its going to be a struggle towards the end of the series,' Betham added.