Upsetting the apple cart
July 21, 2011
Nicky Little was Fiji's hero in their 38-34 win over Wales but his game ended in injury © Getty Images
Following Samoa's historic win over Australia in Sydney last weekend, Scrum Sevens celebrates some other occasions when the Pacific Islands were able to upset the odds.
Wallabies boss Robbie Deans was widely criticised for his squad selection, but that detracts from a Samoan performance that blended brute force and flair in the best traditions of Pacific rugby.
Fiji will hope to cause a similar upset against the All Blacks on Friday and we've given them a few examples to follow as we look at a British & Irish Lions side defeated, the hosts of the World Cup coming undone and a Tongan side prevailing in Brisbane.
Australia 11-16 Tonga - 1973
Tonga produced the finest result in their rugby history in Brisbane on June 30, 1973. In only their second tour outside of the Pacific Isles, Tonga faced a New Zealand Maori side a month prior to journeying to Australia and defeated their Kiwi counterparts 11-3.
Nevertheless, the Tongans arrived in Sydney with the odds firmly stacked against them and the favourites prevailed - winning the opening Test 30-12. Few people gave the tourists a hope when they arrived in Brisbane the following week. The Australians made just two changes from their victorious side, while the Tongans made effective alterations. New outside-centre Tali Kavapalu crossed the line first for Tonga and winger Sami Latu soon followed. The Tongans scored a further two tries in a 16-11 win, ensuring a landmark in their history and a moment to forget for the Wallabies.
The 1977 British & Irish Lions travelled to New Zealand with plenty of expectation on their shoulders. In 1971 and 1974 the tourists had emerged victorious from series against the All Blacks and Springboks and while the '77 vintage won 21 of their 26 games on tour, they fell 3-1 in the Test series and later slipped up against Fiji in Suva.
The Lions side featured legends such as Ian McGeechan, Phil Bennett and Bill Beaumont but they were arguably already back in the Heathrow arrivals lounge when they landed. The Lions were defeated five tries to three with flanker Vuata Narisia crossing the line twice for the home side.
Ireland 25-40 Samoa - 1996
Samoa recorded their third victory over Five Nations opposition at Lansdowne Road in 1996. Despite being in the midst of an awful run of form, Ireland were still confident heading into the tie and boasted a side that included future British & Irish Lions' Paul Wallace and Jeremy Davidson.
They came up against a resilient Samoan side in a game that launched the career of one of the Premiership's most well respected former players. A young No.8 named Zak Feau'nati, who went onto play for London Irish, Leeds and Bath, was spotted by a scout and invited for a trial with the Exiles on the back of his performance. Samoa outscored Ireland five tries to one - with To'o Vaega crossing twice - and it was only Simon Mason's boot that kept the score relatively respectable for the home side.
Wales 31-38 Samoa - 1999
Following Samoa's historic 16-13 win over Wales in the 1991 World Cup, few gave the Islanders any chance of them repeating the feat. The 1991 game heralded the arrival of one of Samoa's favourite sons, Brian Lima, on the international scene, while the 1999 game displayed the Islanders' brute strength like never before.
Wales still reached the quarter-finals of the tournament, where they were soundly beaten by Australia, but the Samoan victory shocked the rugby-watching public. Outscoring the hosts five tries to three, with two of Wales' efforts coming through penalty tries, Samoan physicality proved to be the decisive factor. Welsh scrum-half Rob Howley later said: "Whilst everything was pretty rosy, the Samoan team that day had Va'aiga Tuigamala and Pat Lam playing for them, along with Graham Bachop who had actually been coached by Graham Henry. In the Samoan game they did a job on our ball-carrying players and we could not create any forward moves at all because we were relying on those particular players."
Tonga 20-16 France - 1999
France journeyed to Tonga looking to start their build-up for the 1999 Rugby World Cup. However, they faced a resolute home side who had other ideas at the Teufaiva Stadium.
The future World Cup finalists fielded a predominantly second string-squad but the likes of Christophe Lamaison, Fabien Galthie and Thomas Casteignede were all playing for Les Bleus. Josh Taumololo crossed the line twice for Tonga, with their additional try coming through winger Tauna'holo Taufahema. France's fortunes did not get much better on the tour as they lost to the All Blacks the following week 54-7.
Fiji 38-34 Wales - 1999
In 2007, Wales looked certainties for a World Cup quarter-final berth against South Africa, with Fiji their only stumbling block. Nicky Little orchestrated a thrilling win for the Islanders as Wales committed the cardinal sin of engaging Fiji in an open, running game.
Despite being outscored in terms of tries on the day, Little's kicking was mesmeric and following a late try from Fiji's Graham Dewes, they secured their passage to the knock-out stages. In the 73rd minute, Wales thought they had done enough with Martyn Williams' intercept try putting them back into the lead, but the final say went to Dewes who bundled over from close range. The game ended on a doubly emotional note for the Fijian's with talismanic fly-half Little leaving the field at the final whistle on a stretcher.
The Pacific Islanders have played nine recognised Tests and have only recorded one win, which is enough to force its way into this week's selection. Italy were looking to reassert themselves at Europe's top table following a dismal Six Nations campaign in 2008 where they collected the wooden spoon. After failing to win any of their autumn internationals they came up against a Pacific Islanders side with the same claim.
However, the Islanders, complete with Vilimoni Delasau and Seilala Mapusua, had different ideas and prevailed at the Reggio Emilia 25-17. Delasau was in inspired form crossing the try line twice along with Saracens back Kameli Ratuvou, who also grabbed a score. Despite Italy fielding the Bergamasco brothers and the inspirational Sergio Parisse they were powerless to prevent an unlikely home defeat.
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