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Rugby World Cup moments: Western Samoa stun Wales

Wales looked to be in the doldrums heading into the second Rugby World Cup in 1991, but even so, few would have expected them to come unstuck against Western Samoa.

On a damp autumnal Sunday afternoon in Cardiff, the Samoans' physicality proved too much for their bedraggled opponents, as a side including Pat Lam and Brian 'The Chiropractor' Lima led the way against the woeful Welsh. 

The visitors to Cardiff would go on to make the quarter-finals for the first time, while for co-hosts Wales, the result proved the precursor for some dark days for their country's national sport.

WhatRugby Union World Cup
WhereFrance
WhenFriday 8th September - Saturday 28th October 2023
How to watchITV
OddsNew Zealand 13/5, France 11/4, South Africa 9/2, Ireland 5/1, Australia 10/1

How not to prepare to be tournament hosts

As one of a quintet of co-hosts, with the then Five Nations sharing the honour, Wales went in looking to upset expectations and emulate their performances from the inaugural World Cup after they finished third in 1987.

However, they lost three and drew the other match as England swept the Grand Slam in the spring before conceding a combined 134 points over two weekends of a tour of Australia, with the players fighting among themselves after that second match.

A split camp hardly laid the groundwork heading into the tournament, especially with a new coach appointed shortly before the event, as Alan Davies took over from the controversial Ron Waldron.

Ieuan Evans also replaced Paul Thorburn as captain and even though they lost their final warm-up 22-9 to France, Wales were still expected to have too much for Western Samoa, who they eased past in both 1986 and 1988.

However, whether undercooked or complacent, Wales were poorly prepared and after a warning from visiting captain Peter Fatialofa that "the Welsh have never seen tackling like Samoan tackling", the visitors gave no quarter.

Run fast, tackle hard

It is a cliched description of the Samoans, but their hard-running and bone-shuddering tackling was exactly what allowed them to get the better of their opponents, who also chose to field a half-fit fly-half in Mark Ring.

Living and working in Auckland, prop Fatialofa was one of several players who was either considered for or would go on to play for the All Blacks. That list included Frank Bunce, who prior to playing for New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup final, turned out for Western Samoa in this tournament and battered an inexperienced Scott Gibbs in the centres.

Wales full-back Tony Clement also came through the game with a bruise extending from the top of his leg to his ribcage but the Samoans also rode their luck, most notably shortly after half-time when centre To'a Vega touched down. Replays showed that Robert Jones had got the first contact on the ball, but with no TMO in those days, the score was awarded by referee Patrick Robin.

A second try from back-rower Sila Vaifale and eight points from the boot of scrum-half Matthew Vaea saw Western Samoa grab a famous victory, with Ring's right boot and touchdowns from Arthur Emyr and Ieuan Evans not enough for Wales.

The 16-13 victory in Cardiff helped the Samoans to their maiden World Cup quarter-final, losing 28-6 to Scotland in the last eight but they made a lasting impression on the tournament, as well as the Welsh players' ribs.

Dark day leads to tough decade

It was a dire day for Welsh rugby and arguably set the tone for a tough decade for the national sport in the valleys.

The result signalled the first time a seeded nation has lost a non-seed at the World Cup and was the first of just three occasions that Wales have lost to the Samoans.

That includes another World Cup defeat, losing 38-31 at the revamped Arms Park, then known as the Millenium Stadium, in 1999, but at least on that occasion, they still made it through after beating Argentina and Japan to top Pool D.

They would eventually go down 24-9 to Australia, who would go on to win the tournament by beating France 35-12 in Cardiff.

Wales have had their fair share of woes against the Pacific Island nations and Western Samoa's win in Cardiff was arguably a watershed moment for that part of the world as they put 80 minutes together to show they belong at the top table.

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