Samoa's Census Johnston is tackled by Scotland's Alasdair Strokosch during their rugby test match in Durban earlier this month.  Picture: REUTERS
Samoa's Census Johnston is tackled by Scotland's Alasdair Strokosch during their rugby test match in Durban earlier this month. Picture: REUTERS

A WEIGHT of historical baggage will propel Samoan skipper Paul Williams onto the field at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. It starts with his father, Bryan Williams, who is probably the main reason a substantial section of the Cape coloured community still doggedly supports New Zealand teams rather than the Stormers and the Springboks.

Bryan Williams was one of the first Pacific Islanders to become an All Black, which created a problem for the race-obsessed apartheid government when the New Zealanders toured here in 1970. To get around this, they granted him the bizarre and insulting status of "honorary white".

This, plus the fact that he performed brilliantly, scoring 13 tries in 14 games with scintillating flair, won many a Cape heart. It probably helped that they shared a similar skin colour with him.

Bryan Williams went on to coach the Samoan team for 10 years and so, although sons Gavin and Paul were born in New Zealand, they spent a large part of their childhood in Samoa.

Paul Williams, meanwhile, has accumulated a little baggage of his own.

The last time he faced the Springboks was in the final pool game of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in Auckland.

In a wild, aggression-fuelled match, he was red-carded for slapping Heinrich Brüssow in the face and the fact that the Samoans had to play on without him probably contributed to their ultimate defeat.

At the team hotel, the Montecasino Southern Sun, this week, Williams concedes that the result was "very disappointing" but Saturday is their chance to even the score.

The Samoans are taking this game very seriously. When I made the appointment to see Williams, I was told they would be back from training at 4pm. In fact it was closer to 5.30pm and getting dark by the time the team had left the field and made the short journey back to the hotel.

There is a lot of talk here of David and Goliath and the evidence does point to this team as the underdog.

Weeks ago, accredited rugby writers were provided with detailed media schedules for the Springboks, the Italians and the Scots.

We were given dates, times and venues for press conferences for each team several times a week throughout the campaign — with the coach, captain and assorted players available for interviews.

However, from the Samoans, there has been not a peep.

I remark on this to Williams and he says: "We just don’t have the resources."

Unlike the other teams, they cannot afford a media manager. They operate with a bare minimum of management staff.

There is no professional rugby in Samoa. Most of the team play their rugby in Europe or New Zealand.

They come together for only a week before each game.

In the current case, a couple of the Samoan players were in the French finals and only made it a couple of days before the kick-off against Scotland in Durban.

Williams, who calls himself "a proud Samoan and a proud New Zealander", has played for the Highlanders and the Blues in Super Rugby and now plays for Stade Francais. But, he says, no matter where they ply their trade, Samoans retain their culture and so bonding as a team when they do get together does not present problems.

Their last game against the Springboks — on September 30 2011 — bore this out.

It was played on the second anniversary of a tsunami that tore through Samoa and Tonga, sweeping away several villages and killing 189 people. It was a painful anniversary for all Samoans and their national team felt a collective responsibility to deliver a win to provide a bit of cheer.

It was also their last chance to stay in the Rugby World Cup. Defeat would mean their campaign was over and, in the ruthless way of the International Rugby Board (IRB), they would be packed off home the next day.

But, from kick-off, the Springboks dominated. Bryan Habana scored a try in the ninth minute, which was successfully converted by Morné Steyn.

In the 25th minute, Frans Steyn, the man with the big boot, belted across a penalty from an extraordinary 60m distance.

Two minutes later, the other Steyn delivered another.

At half-time, the score was 13-0. After half-time, the Samoans charged back onto the field with a desperate energy, barely keeping their aggression legal. Hougaard was injured and Jean de Villiers came on, his first appearance on the field since being sidelined with a rib injury incurred during the first pool game, against Wales.

Shortly after Williams was red-carded, John Smit was slapped with a yellow card, so both teams played their last 10 minutes with only 14 men.

The final score was 13-5 to the Boks.

After a Test, there is a media opportunity called a mixed zone, where a selection of players from each team gather behind a waist-high barricade beyond which journalists cluster, thrusting microphones and cameras at them, accompanied by a barrage of questions.

The dynamics of the mixed zone after the SA-Samoa game said it all about the gap between them. A larger than usual contingent of Boks appeared: Jean de Villiers, Victor Matfield, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie and Willem Alberts, as well as head coach Peter de Villiers.

The Springboks were all spruced up: they had showered and changed into crisp white shirts, black pants and shoes and their green and gold Springbok blazers.

Their hair was carefully styled — Fourie’s and Jean de Villiers’ into spiky crests. Matfield’s was smoothed back from his forehead in shiny black curls. They looked good and clearly felt very good.

This was in sharp contrast to the lone Samoan to make an appearance: prop Census Johnston, who appeared to have come straight from the field. Johnston’s long hair hung in a greasy tangle. A threadbare white towel was draped around his shoulders like an old lady’s shawl.

"The nation’s mood is dependent on how we do," he said, despondently.

To add insult to injury, the international rugby bosses fined the Samoan team NZ$10,000 (almost R60,000) because one member of the team wore a mouthguard displaying branding by one of their sponsors. The IRB has a monopoly on sponsorship during a Rugby World Cup.

But the Samoans did leave a parting shot: Frans Steyn sustained a shoulder injury, which ended his World Cup campaign.

Fit-again De Villiers slipped seamlessly back into the number 12 jersey for the fateful quarterfinals, 10 days later.

Despite the team’s devastating loss against the Wallabies, De Villiers himself had a good game, setting up that controversially disallowed try by Patrick Lambie.

On Saturday, De Villiers leads the Springboks against the Samoans for a rematch in which both sides have a lot to prove. It’s going to be a cracker of a game.

McGregor’s latest book, The Springbok Factory, will be published in August.