England v Samoa: David Lemi says players are not distracted

By Chris JonesBBC Radio 5 live
Samoa's David Lemi
Lemi moved from Worcester to Championship rivals Bristol earlier in the year
Autumn international: England v Samoa
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday 22 November Kick-off: 19:00 GMT
Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 live from 19:20 GMT; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app; watch highlights on BBC Two on Sunday 23 November at 13:00 GMT

Samoa captain David Lemi says events of the past few weeks have brought his players closer together.

Their preparations have been dogged by off-field issues, with the squad threatening to boycott Saturday's match with England because of long-standing problems with the Samoan Rugby Union.

"This team is special, it is different from any team I have been involved with," Lemi told BBC Radio 5 live.

"In this team we are family, we are brothers."

The threat of a strike was withdrawn following the intervention of World Rugby (formerly the International Rugby Board) and the International Rugby Players' Association (IRPA), but the Samoan Rugby Union (SRU) has twice since failed to attend meetings set up in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

Samoa team manager Sami Leota said on Thursday that matters are now in the hands of World Rugby and the IRPA, and Lemi insisted the players have not been distracted by the ongoing dispute.

"All our focus is on England," continued Lemi. "We have prepared really well, and it's up to us to translate that preparation to the field.

"If we execute our plan well, it gives us a chance."

Former Samoa and Gloucester centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu told 5 live earlier this week that the issues have been going on for most of the past decade, and that the players were close to boycotting games at the last World Cup in 2011.

"It's gone on for years and nothing has changed," he said. "We've threatened to strike many times. It's been there since day one.

"A lot of the boys are flying to Samoa on their own money. We don't get paid much, but then we hear stories about how the union fundraised $6m (£3.84m) at the last World Cup and were going to audit and show everyone where the money went - and then there's nothing.

Samoa Rugby Union international player Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu
Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu has spoken out against what he sees as mismanagement inside the SRU

"[At the last World Cup] I was approached by IRB Hall of Famer Brian Lima and he actually told us to boycott the World Cup because of these issues."

Fuimaono-Sapolu - one of a number of senior players who have not featured for Samoa after speaking out against the SRU - has urged the current squad to go through with the strike in an effort to force change.

Last week, Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who is also chairman of the SRU, reacted to the players' concerns by calling them "spoilt children".

"We have some of the finest international rugby players in the world, who are trying to be controlled by a bunch of locals who really have no idea what professional rugby is about," Fuimaono-Sapolu added.

"This is why [the problems] have been there for the last 10 years. Part of Samoa culture is a big trust in your elders, and you don't question your elders. You just accept it."

The reaction from the rugby world in the past week has been overwhelming, with the Samoan players receiving widespread backing on social media,external-link with the current New Zealand team amongst those to send a message of support.

And Lemi - one of 10 English-based players in the Samoa matchday squad at Twickenham - says the group has been galvanised by the response.

"I'd like to take the opportunity on behalf of the whole team to say thanks to everyone supporting us. It's an honour for us to represent our country against England this weekend," added the Bristol wing.

"Some of our players are related to those players who play for New Zealand, so it shows that we have a lot of support from our brothers playing for the All Blacks."

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