In honour of Japan’s stunning upset of South Africa that has electrified the Rugby World Cup, Too Good Tuesday looks at the first great underdog story the tournament produced – Western Samoa’s efforts at the 1991 RWC.
The Pacific Islanders did not participate in the inaugural ’87 edition, but made a stunning World Cup debut when they rolled Wales 16-13 at Cardiff Arms Park. Centre To’o Vaega’s remarkable – and controversial – chip-and-chase try put Samoa on track for the upset, while Vaega named his son Cardiff in honour of the triumph.
Blindside flanker Sila Vaifale’s crucial four-pointer stunned the 45,000-strong pro-Wales crowd as the unheralded newcomers became the toast of the rugby world.
Their next assignment was against Australia in terrible conditions at Pontypool, going down 9-3 in a try-less encounter perhaps most remembered for this shocking coathanger by Wallabies flanker Brendon Nasser on centre Frank Bunce and the ensuing all-in brawl:
The brilliant Samoan backline cut loose in the final pool clash with Argentina, with blockbusting wingers Brian Lima and Timo Tagaloa bagging doubles and Bunce and flyhalf Stephen Bachop also crossing in a 35-12 rout at Pontypridd.
The fairytale run came to an abrupt halt at the quarter-final stage courtesy of a 28-6 loss to a Gavin Hastings-inspired Scotland side at Murrayfield, but Samoa’s status as a genuine force on the international rugby scene was safe.
Taking a look at their line-up in hindsight, it’s little surprise Western Samoa were so successful at the ’91 World Cup. Despite turning 30 a few months after the tournament, Bunce went on to represent New Zealand in 59 Tests in becoming one of the all-time great centres, while Bachop and Pat Lam also debuted for the All Blacks in ensuing seasons.
Lima, Tagaloa, Vaega, lock Mark Birtwistle and captain Peter Fatialofa were all prominent players on the New Zealand domestic scene, and hard-hitting flanker Apollo Perelini went on to a successful rugby league career with British giants St Helens.
Samoa reached the quarter-finals of the next two World Cups, despite regularly having their best players snapped up by the All Blacks.