Many pundits have proclaimed that Group D is the pool of death at this years Rugby World Cup, but England’s group poses it’s own dangers for England.
With South Africa coming into a run of form, and if the results from England’s summer tour are anything to go by, the Springboks will be very difficult to beat. If England do not front up up front, they could get steamrollered by South Africa’s physical style of play. If England lose this key game, they will be looking to qualify in second place – but the Samoans might have something to say about that.
Manu Samoa gave England a scare in 2003 in the group match in Melbourne. They put the pressure on Jonny Wilkinson with some big tackles, and denied him any room whatsoever and they looked as they might cause a huge upset. They will be looking to do the same this time around.
Alesana Tuilagi and Brian ‘The Chiropractor’ Lima have the potential to run around or through English lightweights such as David Strettle or Mathew Tait, and may employ bullying tactics to nullify England’s attacking threat. To survive, Brian Ashton must select his team wisely.
For this fixture, the England coach should consider players like Mike Tindall (if fit) and Josh Lewsey who have the size and experience to cope with such strong runners. In the forwards, England should have the edge, and will look to starve Samoa of possession, but out wide they will need to withstand the direct running.
Even if England do go through to the quarter-finals, Samoa could still inflict some damage in the way of injuries. This would be a real concern given England’s lack of strength and experience in depth. If Jonny, Jason Robinson and Tom Rees are injured, England will have no chance against the top teams. Again, selection will be important, and Ashton should be mindful of this fixture when he considers his 30-man squad.
The fact that Samoa play South Africa before they play England may be a good thing from the defending champions’ point of view. Both of these teams play a highly confrontational style of rugby, so by the time England meets them, they will be bruised and battered and somewhat weakened.
There is a chance that the World Cup holders will go out in the first round, and Brian Ashton must mitigate this risk by carefully selecting his team for each game. After all, it’s a marathon not a sprint.
Read the team profile of Samoa here on The Rugby Blog.
By James Hutchison