Lowe enjoys life with the unpredictable Samoans

Dave Hadfield meets the rejuvenated coach of the World Cup's dark horses
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The Independent Online
Traffic on the M6 might have made Graham Lowe the last chief to arrive at the game's great gathering of the clans this week but, typically, he was the man who came up with the best sound-bite.

How on earth would he set about preparing a Western Samoan squad, some of whom had never met each other, let alone played together, for the Centenary World Cup?

Simple, he told the crowd assembled for the official launch of the tournament. They would have a sing-song and a couple of games of tick-and-pass and they would be ready.

"If you believe that," said the tournament director, Maurice Lindsay, who once employed Lowe as coach of Wigan, "you'll believe anything."

The dark horses of the tournament will be a little more thoroughly groomed than Lowe admits, but there is an element of truth in his banter.

There is just no time to mould a group of players drawn from New Zealand, Australia and England as well as their own islands into anything very complicated or even coherent. There is more than enough time, however, to fire them up by stoking an already fierce national pride and to give them their heads, which is exactly what Lowe, in their games against France and Wales next week, will do.

It is something of a miracle that Lowe, the former New Zealand, Queensland and Manly coach, as well as the man who began Wigan's decade of dominance, is here at all. A life-threatening embolism looked to have ended his coaching career four years ago, but Lowe has simply refused to lie down and play the invalid.

Apart from his Samoan commitments, he is due to take over at the North Queensland Cowboys next season, but you sense that it is working with the islanders that has sharpened his appetite once more. "They phoned me up out of the blue to see whether I could go over and help them out, and it has been like a breath of fresh air to me," he says.

"It has been a humbling experience to be with them and watch their way of life and the way they go about things. The players have the manners and the humility that you don't often find among modern sportsmen."

As a coach in New Zealand, Lowe was used to dealing with Samoans; they are an important sub-culture within the game there. "I've had a lot to do with Samoans for 40 years. I know their psyche and understand their philosophy of life."

And yet the question of quite how they will perform in the most compelling group of the World Cup remains a tantalising mystery to him, as it is to most other people.

"Anything could happen with these blokes," he says. "They could get wiped out or they could wipe everyone else out. There is so much flair. They do things with the ball which, as a professional coach from a hard environment, terrify you. But they work."

Even with players like Va'aiga Tuigamala and John Schuster available, Samoa face a formidable task in taking on France and Wales within three days of each other. "We'll only have time for about three feeds and back out there again," says Lowe. "Mind you, with these blokes, that's equivalent to about 20 meals with other people."

Throw in a sing-song and a few games of touch football and everything will be set fair for a convalescent coach and his bunch of friendly strangers. As he says, anything could happen.