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Ireland’s ‘horrendous’ Lansdowne Road defeat to Samoa serves as a warning from history ahead of crucial World Cup clash

Ireland have only lost once to Samoa in their history, at Lansdowne Road in 1996
Ireland have only lost once to Samoa in their history, at Lansdowne Road in 1996 Credit: Getty Images

It remains Ireland’s only defeat by Samoa. A 40-25 reverse at Lansdowne Road in 1996, in which the rampant Pacific Islanders ran in five tries on a sorry night in a sorry period for Irish rugby.

For Paul Wallace, it is a reminder of what could happen to Ireland today if they fail to pay their opponents enough respect.

“Samoa are an incredibly dangerous team,” the former Ireland prop says. “I still think Ireland should beat them comfortably on Saturday. But then, we thought that back in 1996 as well ...”

Wallace, who played in that game, has successfully managed to forget most of it. Amusingly, he cannot even remember whether he scored. Some websites list P Wallace as Ireland’s sole scorer. Others list his older brother, Richard, who was on the wing.

“That’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it,” he says, laughing. “I don't remember scoring. Actually, I can’t believe I’m talking myself out of a try ... I probably ran it in from our own 22. Write that!”

What Wallace can remember is that the Samoa team that day were stacked with talent. “Inga Tuigamala was back playing for them, Pat Lam was captain, Junior Paramore was on the bench, Zak Feau’nati, Brendan Reidy. He was a good pal of mine, we played at Saracens together. Earl Va’a at 10 had a good game, I think. But yeah, they were a great team.”

Paul Wallace (left) watches on as Va'aiga Tuigamala makes an offload Credit: Sportsfile

Ireland had David Humphreys making his fourth start at fly-half, Paddy Johns at No 8 and Niall Hogan leading the team from scrum-half. But they were a rag-tag collection of “professional” players.

“It wasn’t a great era for us, those early years of professionalism,” Wallace admits. “Light years away from today. The only difference between us in 1996 and the players from a couple of years before was we were getting paid a few quid. But there was no structure.

“Samoa had famously beaten Wales in 1991 and then done them again in 1994. So everyone knew they were dangerous. Nevertheless, the expectation would have been that we should beat them quite comfortably, especially at home.”

Ireland had Simon Mason to thank for even making it a game. The full-back landed six penalties and a conversion (it was Paul Wallace who scored, at least according to the Irish Rugby Football Union's official website). But tries from To’o Vaega (2), George Leaupepe, Veli Patu and Afato So’oalo put Ireland to the sword.

“It was horrendous from what I can remember,” Wallace says. “No wonder I’ve blanked it from my mind. We were going through a lot of coaches. It must have been [New Zealander] Murray Kidd at that point.”

Ireland have won the five other games between the countries and Wallace does not see lightning striking for a second time on Saturday.

“Samoa still have great players,” Wallace says. “The tragedy for them is that so many of them are playing for other countries. Just think how good they could be.”

One of them will be playing for Ireland on Saturday. Bundee Aki, of Samoan heritage, has been named in a strong lineup featuring Johnny Sexton at fly-half.

“We’d not have lost against Japan had Sexton been playing,” Wallace insists. “I think Ireland underestimated Japan that day. But I think they have been holding a lot back. I think they’ve been saving it for the knockout stages. It’s a bit of a rope-a-dope tactic. Well, that’s my hope anyway!

“Ireland have to start showing a bit of that this weekend. I want to see us offload more. Joe [Schmidt] doesn’t like it because he sees it as risky. But with the ball being so slippery, you might as well. If you truck it up for four or five phases, it’s so predictable, and you’re going to knock on eventually anyway.”

Samoa will be offloading, that is for sure. Ireland will need to be on their game if they are to avoid a repeat of 1996.