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Peter Bills: Nasty streak hides behind Samoan smile

They like to call themselves devout Christians. But there’s nothing God-like about the way Samoans play rugby, as Ireland are about to be reminded in Dublin today.

SOS might be an appropriate message for Irish coach Declan Kidney to send out ahead of this afternoon’s international at Lansdowne Road. In this case, it would mean ‘Save Our Skulls’.

Don’t be fooled by the smiling South Sea islanders, the men who profess to love the game and everything about it. Far, far too often they have besmirched the good name of this sport with their wild, tackles that have brought sendings off and yellow cards.

One Samoan won’t be on the field at the Aviva stadium today for that very reason. And Ireland can count themselves lucky he’ll be missing.

Perpignan’s Samoan No. 8 Henry Tuilagi (pictured) is banned from the first two November internationals after receiving a seven week suspension for a dangerous assault on an opponent in a Perpignan-La Rochelle club match last month.

I happened to be at that Top 14 match and what Tuilagi did sickened me and most others.

La Rochelle scrum half Damien Neveu had passed the ball on a counter attack long before Tuilagi assaulted him.

To call it a tackle would risk action under the Trades Descriptions Act. It was a cheap, nasty shot and you winced, even sitting up in the grandstand.

Tuilagi, 6ft 1in and 18st 5lbs, waited until Neveu, just 5ft 9in and 12st 12lbs, had got rid of the ball and his body, initially sensing impact, had then relaxed. That was when Tuilagi hit him with a violent shoulder charge. Encouragingly, he got a straight red.

Rugby union needs people like this and assaults like this, like it needs a hole in the head. But Tuilagi was only following in a long line of such assaults by Samoan rugby players.

Even late this week, Samoan hooker Ti'i Paulo, was cited for two incidents of foul play in the match between Connacht and Samoa in Galway on Tuesday. Thus, Ti'i Paulo is ruled out of today's international.

What they need is to clean up their act. And if they can’t or won’t do it, the game’s authorities must do it for them. Natural exuberance and straightforward hard tackles are one thing; sheer violence something else entirely.

Too often, sadly, what we have seen from Samoan players has been too much of the latter. It has got to stop.

A World Cup is being played next year to a bigger worldwide sporting audience than ever before. The last thing this sport needs is to see players being seriously hurt.

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He’s barely 5ft 9 ins in his soaking wet socks and weighs in at just 13st 7lbs.

At 20, he still has the angelic look of a child. But there’s nothing juvenile about the rugby played by Australian wing James O’Connor. And he’s set to become world rugby’s No 1 pin-up boy.

Post the 2011 Rugby World Cup I forecast O’Connor will become an instantly recognisable face the world over.

He’s brilliant as a player; quick, clever, cheeky and intelligent. And he scores tries for fun, even against the best defences in the world.

This afternoon, O’Connor is set to torment England at Twickenham. They’d better be switched on to his ways. Otherwise, today’s game will be another example of the Aussies putting one over the Poms.

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