The vociferous jeers that rang around the Millennium Stadium on Saturday afternoon might haunt Rob Howley for some time. Quite simply, his side were a distant second best to Argentina – outfought, outthought and overrun by a pack of hungry Pumas, battle-hardened from a summer alongside the southern hemisphere giants.
If Wales had planned an easy start to their autumn, an ignominious 26-12 beating should finally evaporate any remaining complacency. After all, as they reel on the ropes, the biggest hitters in world rugby are rolling into Cardiff. Flying off a comprehensive 42-12 victory over Canada a week ago, Samoa will be hard to stop.
Reasons to back Wales
The excuses have all gone. Suggestions of ring-rust and carelessness may have offered the hosts an easy way out last time, but there is nothing left to blame. Lose this, and Wales will have undone their glorious Grand Slam by falling to five consecutive Test defeats. With precious IRB points at stake, that is unthinkable. For ranking and reputation, this is frankly do-or-die. Thankfully for Howley, desperation can sometimes make a team dangerous.
On paper at least, Welsh fans can be encouraged by a more robust-looking selection, albeit with a couple of brave calls. A new-look pairing of Mike Phillips and Dan Biggar at half-back should provide composure and structure – two elements that were distinctly lacking against Argentina. Up front, Paul James and Bradley Davies bring bulk to bolster the tight five, while old warhorse Ryan Jones comes in for Josh Turnbull and will captain, given that Sam Warburton is rested. And that leads nicely to the final point.
Justin Tipuric, on the back of an exceptional 2012, has finally broken the door down. Many backed him to usurp his skipper before now, but should the Osprey replicate some super-charged cameos for an extended period, the openside spot is his for the taking. Potential showdowns with David Pocock and Riche McCaw await, too – an extremely alluring prospect for a man who could well end up among the Lions’ contingent this summer.
Reasons to back Samoa
Just as Wales will feel the weight of a cynical, scrupulous home crowd, Samoa are free from any burden of expectation. Flying the flag for world rugby’s often-neglected ‘tier two’ nations, the islanders also will launch into tackles and carries with characteristically manic aggression. If Argentina was physically arduous, this promises to be ferocious.
However, that is not to say that Samoa will act like unguided missiles. In Census Johnston, Daniel Leo and Maurie Faasavulu, they have a trio of club veterans whose know-how and set-piece strength can direct their less seasoned colleagues. Scrum half Kahn Fotuali’i also brings the added bonus of inside knowledge, having spent the past season and a half with the Ospreys.
Diminutive Worcester livewire David Lemi represents the final change to the line-up that dismissed the Cannucks, and has the pace and mazy running ability to worry far brawnier opposite number Alex Cuthbert, just as Juan did last week. Even if Lemi does not reach his brilliant best, four-try debutant Robert Lilomaiava is among the replacements.
Prediction: The top eight of the IRB rankings beckons for Samoa, a coup that would act as a huge boost for the nation. However, Wales have some serious wrongs to right and should get back on track under the Friday night lights. Wales by eight.