Australia v Samoa, Sydney, July 17
Wallabies kick off World Cup preparations
July 15, 2011
Matt Giteau is set to fill the Wallabies' No.10 shirt for the clash with the Islanders © Getty Images
Australia will step up their preparations for this year's Rugby World Cup with a clash against Samoa at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Sunday.
Robbie Deans' side date with the Islanders is their first outing of the year and their only warm-up before they kick off their Tri-Nations campaign against South Africa at the same venue on July 23. Samoa enter the clash fresh from a mixed return at this year's Pacific Nations Cup that included a victory over eventual champions Japan but defeats to South Seas rivals Fiji and Tonga.
The game will see these two sides meet for the fifth time with Samoa looking to redress the balance having been on the losing side on the four previous occasions - most recently suffering a 74-7 hammering in 2005.
Australia - Player to Watch: All eyes will be on captain Rocky Elsom as he attempts to draw a line under an injury-plagued domestic season.
Australia - Team News: Melbourne Rebels scrum-half Nick Phipps, NSW Waratahs lock Sitaleki Timani and Reds winger Rod Davies bring a fresh element to the starting XV, while fellow newcomers James Hanson and Beau Robinson, both from the Reds, are named on the bench. The likes of Quade Cooper and David Pocock are rested while James O'Connor was a late withdrawal due to injury. Fellow first-choice stars Kurtley Beale and Will Genia start on the bench. Matt Giteau is handed the playmaking duties while Sekope Kepu is switched to loose-head following a season-ending injury for Benn Robinson.
Samoa - Player to Watch: Winger Alesana Tuilagi has been in try-scoring form of late and will no doubt make an impression on the Wallabies' defence.
Samoa - Team News: Highlanders' hooker Mahonri Schwalger will lead a side that includes Leicester winger Alesana Tuilagi, London Irish speedster Sailosi Tagicakibau, Japan-bound centre Seilala Mapusua and new Ospreys signing George Stowers. None of the players that featured in the 29-19 Pacific Nations Cup defeat to Tonga in Lautoka on Wednesday make the line-up for the Wallabies clash although five of them are included in the replacements.
Key Battle: Two contrasting wingers in Australia's Rod Davies and Samoa's Alesana Tuilagi are set to go head-to-head - both can be deadly with ball in hand but their defensive work will be equally important on Sunday.
Trivia: During his time at the Crusaders, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans had five of this Samoa squad under his care - prop Sakaria Taulafo, flyhalf Tusi Pisi, fullback Paul Williams, reserve hooker Tii Paulo and scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i
Stats: Australia have scored a total of 26 tries in their previous four meetings with Samoa who have notched just three.
"The thing people need to realise is that this is a World Cup Samoa combination... they have a lot of players who have [European] and Super Rugby experience." - Wallabies coach Robbie Deans warns that it will not be one-way traffic.
"We can all agree the bigger picture is the Rugby World Cup and the Pacific Nations Cup has played a big role in preparing our boys for that." - Samoa coach Titimaea Tafua shrugs off his side's Pacific Nations Cup shortcomings.
Prediction: Australian rugby is set to get a wake-up call in the wake of the Reds' Super Rugby triumph with a battle-hardened Samoa looking to further their own World Cup hopes - but the hosts will roll with the punches before kicking off a big year with a win.
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