DUBLIN (AP) — Captain Kahn Fotuali'i says the rugby world shouldn't be shocked if Samoa was to beat Ireland at Lansdowne Road this weekend.
Samoa has beaten Ireland in Dublin before, though 17 years ago. And not anywhere else since. But having punched above its weight for wins over Australia, Wales, Scotland and Italy since mid-2011, the Samoans have progressed to the point where their long-heralded promise is turning into consistently good results.
"We fight for results and victories: Years in the past, certain wins might have been viewed by some as shocks, and maybe even Samoa saw them like that, too. But it's not that way anymore," Fotuali'i said.
"You can see that with the calibre of players declaring for Samoa. Players who are eligible for other countries are now making themselves available more and more for Samoa. As the whole Samoan setup becomes more professional, more and more players will start making themselves available."
Samoa, however, won't be at full-strength on Saturday. Fotuali'i was made captain after David Lemi was ruled out with an injured shoulder. Other senior players sidelined include fullback Gavin Williams, and forwards Census Johnston, David Leo and Maurie Fa'asavalu.
Flanker Ofisa Treviranus, familiar to the Irish after a season with Connacht, is the most experienced Samoan with 25 caps. New Zealand-based center Isaia Tu'ifua will make his debut if he comes off the bench.
Ireland will start uncapped tighthead prop Joe McGrath, and uncapped back Dave Kearney in the reserves. Paddy Jackson has the No. 10 jersey in place of Jonathan Sexton, who has a hip injury. Sexton is expected to be fit for next week's match against Australia.
Still, Ireland will feature six British and Irish Lions in the run-on side — Rory Best, Jamie Heaslip, Conor Murray, Brian O'Driscoll, Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney — and three more Lions in the reserves; Cian Healy, Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien.
New coach Joe Schmidt has made O'Connell his captain, but given the armband to Six Nations skipper Heaslip this weekend while O'Connell rehabs a calf complaint. Flanker Chris Henry said they have done extra tackling practice this week in anticipation of the Samoans' attacking ability.
"The small bit of defence we have done so far has been about their offloading game; their continuity," he said. "Once they get the ball, it's about us trying to connect as quickly as possible. "We want to keep the ball but there are going to be turnovers and whenever that happens we've got to respond very quick. They've got some serious ball-carriers in their team and they always want to keep the ball alive. We've got to focus on that ball and stop the offloads."
A minute's silence will be observed before the match for Peter Fatialofa, the former Samoa captain who died this week. Fatialofa made his test debut against Ireland in Dublin in 1988.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Fergus McFadden, Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip (captain), Chris Henry, Peter O'Mahony, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Jack McGrath. Reserves: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Declan Fitzpatrick, Paul O'Connell, Sean O'Brien, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Dave Kearney.
Samoa: Fa'atoina Autagavaia, Alapati Leiua, George Pisi, Johnny Leota, Brando Va'aulu, Tusi Pisi, Kahn Fotuali'i (captain); Taiasina Tu'ifua, Jack Lam, Ofisa Treviranus, Filo Paulo, Fa'atiga Lemalu, Logovi'i Mulipola, Ole Avei, Sakaria Taulafo. Reserves: Ti'i Paulo, Viliamu Afatia, James Johnston, Iosefa Tekori, Alafoti Fa'osiliva, Jeremy Su'a, Isaia Tu'ifua, Fautua Otto.