Samoa v South Africa, Rugby World Cup, September 30
Do or die for Samoa against Boks
September 25, 2011
Samoa will need dynamic No.8 George Stowers on top form if they are to have any chance of upsetting the world champs © Getty Images
Samoa must defeat reigning World Cup champions South Africa in North Shore City on Friday if they are to have any hope of progressing to the knockout stages. Mission: Impossible? Not quite, but it is not far off.
Essentially, even a win over the Springboks might not be enough to see the Samoans progress as their opponents only need a bonus point to secure qualification for the last eight, while Wales will go through in place of the Polynesians even if they finish level on points on account of the fact that Warren Gatland's men triumphed when the two sides met in Hamilton last week.
That defeat remains a serious bone of contention with the Samoan camp, given that they had only three days to prepare for the game while the Welsh had a week.
Regardless, Samoa must either put it completely out of their minds - or use it to drive them to victory over the Boks. That they have been given six days to ready themselves for this particular test should aid their cause no end.
However, on the evidence of their victory over Fiji in Auckland on Sunday, Samoa are not equipped to upset a Springbok side which appears to be moving in the right direction again.
Peter de Villiers' men opened the defence of their title with a desperately fortuitous victory over Wales but then produced a vastly improved display in dismantling Fiji the following weekend.
There has been a suggestion that they might only do enough to claim a losing bonus point this weekend in order to position themselves on the easy/northern hemisphere-dominated side of the draw but that is an insult to the Boks' professionalism and win-at-all-costs attitude, so anything other than a third successive victory for the champions would be a massive surprise.
Samoa - Player to Watch: Eliota Fuimanono Sapolu has been recalled to the Samoan midfield for this weekend's game, with George Pisi the man to make way. Fuimanono Sapolu will surely be desperate to ensure that his Rugby World Cup campaign is defined by something other than an inflammatory tirade against the IRB, so expect a determined display from him at inside centre.
Samoa - Team News: Fuimanono Sapolu's recall is just one of two changes to the side which saw off Fiji, with the other being the decision to replace Sailosi Tagicakibau on the right wing with David Lemi.
South Africa - Player to Watch: Many believe Bismarck du Plessis to be the best hooker in the world and yet he's been forced to play second fiddle to John Smit for a long time now. However, Peter de Villiers, who has been incredibly faithful for Springbok skipper Smit, has decided to hand du Plessis the No.2 jersey for this weekend's game. It's an excellent chance for the Sharks ace to make the position his own. Expect him to take it.
South Africa - Team News: As well as the inclusion of du Plessis ahead of Smit, there are four other changes to the pack which faced Namibia, with Victor Matfield, who takes over as skipper, replacing the injured Bakkies Botha in the second-row, Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis coming into the front-row and Heinrich Brussow reclaiming the No.6 jersey from Willem Alberts. In the backs, JP Pietersen is preferred to Gio Aplon on the right wing, while Francois Hougaard makes way for Fourie du Preez at scrum-half.
Key Battle: Pietersen will be happy at having been recalled but he will hardly be relishing his head-to-head with Alesana Tuilagi, arguably the most fearsome back in the competition. However, Tuilagi is Samoa's principal attacking threat so if Pietersen can keep the Leicester ace in check (perhaps with a little help from his friends), while at the same time giving him something to think about from a defensive perspective, he will have served the Springboks well.
Stats: Fly-half Morne Steyn is currently the tournament's top points-scorer having racked up 48 in the Boks' opening three games
Trivia: Samoa were not invited to participate in the 1987 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand
"The things off the field this week have been very much the same with Smitty giving his input. My role on the field is pretty much the same as it always is, making certain calls. I'll go out and play the same way."
"Samoa have got a big ask in front of them but anything is possible in this tournament."
Prediction: Samoa pushed Wales all the way despite having had only three days to recuperate so, with a week of preparation behind them this time around, they should ask a few questions of the Springboks. However, the champions seem to be growing stronger by the day and they should have too much strength in depth for their opponents.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.