When Samoa secured the 7th place in the IRB Rankings last November to book their place in the second band for the World Cup draw, many saw an opportunist and lucky move. Right, it was, at least, a bit lucky, but Samoa really confirmed its new elite status in the tournament played in South Africa during June. So, what really changed for Samoa since a few years ?
First, you can't underestimate the power of Samoa victory against Australia in 2010. That's clearly the kind of wins which leave its mark for a generation of players.
Second, Samoan players found a way to send a message to world rugby like Argentina did it before. They used their unfair treatment during 2011 RWC as a genious communication plan. It put all world rugby in a certain atmosphere about Samoa. It's important to have a clear message which means something to the players concerned by Samoa.
Third, and not the least, Samoa really improved its training standards. With the help of the IRB, coaching, nutrition, conditioning, mental approach, physicality (yes, they still can), everything. Samoa is really the first nation to benefit from an IRB plan. They built different facilities in Apia, improved their youth academies, played more useful games with the Pacific Rugby Cup.
And finally, Samoa put a definitive end to the "All Blacks attraction", many Samoa-born players were convinced Manu Samoa will give them a better aspiration than some meaningless caps with New Zealand. It's really about meaning and my second point is not out of consideration about that. The commitment of the Williams brothers (Paul was decisive in the Sydney historic win) nearly reversed the phenom. Since, more and more NZ-born players are committing themseleves to Manu Samoa.
Let's have a look on the brand new depth. For exemple, Samoa have an amazing pool of players at front row. It's not even sure Census Jonhston (Toulouse key player) is still the best Samoan front rower, Logovi'i Mulipola is now a monster player for the Premiership champions Leicester, but he have to fight for the job at loosehead with James Johnston (Saracens) and Zak Taulafo (Stade Français). And Naama Leleimalefaga (25, Montpellier) is rising fast. Anthony Perenise, former key player of the Manu is not even called in the last squad because Stephen Betham prefers to grow younger Viliamu Afatia (Agen). Half of these players are born in New Zealand (the Johnstons and Perenise). In every position, Samoa uses the diversity of players' origin as a force to advance.
Current Samoa biggest problem comes from his goal-kicking abilities. Only James So'oialo is a world-class goal kicker. His recent problem with Connacht ruled him out of the squad for November tour with the disappointed result we know. Even if Samoa names are impressive, a lot have be done on the field.