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Date: 18th September 2011
Time: 04:30 BST (15:30 NZST)
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Alain Rolland (IRE)
After last week’s gut wrenching defeat to the Springboks’ Wales head northwards to Hamilton to play what has now become a make or break game. The men in red will have to be at their resilient best if they are to bounce back from their opening disappointment, particularly against an imposing Samoan outfit. They can however take a lot of confidence from that opening defeat, which was a massive step in the right direction, certainly performance-wise anyway. Should they come out second best on the scoreboard again, it will almost certainly signal the end of any World Cup aspirations. Mentally, Wales simply have to get it right, especially given their tendency to crumble against Pacific Island teams.
The flawed nature of the World Cup schedule has meant that the Samoans will only have had a three-day recovery period, following their opening match against Namibia on Wednesday. In truth though they were rarely troubled by the African minnows. The game effectively over as a contest by half time, allowing the Pacific Islanders to take their foot off the pedal somewhat, and cruise to a 49-12 win. Such a performance was typical of a side who are on the rise. A famous win in Sydney over the Wallabies earlier in the summer cannot be dismissed as a fluke; in light of the scare they gave England at Twickenham the previous autumn. They have however been affected by inconsistency, in terms of the players available to them, with many frontline players missing due to club commitments or injury.
What to expect:
Undoubtedly Wales should be bracing themselves for a bruising eighty minutes at the Waikato Stadium. Warren Gatland’s team fronted up very well against the physicality of the South Africans, but the power of the Samoans has the potential to be another notch up. As with all Pacific Island teams they will look to be as direct as possible and break the game up. However Wales have an impressive destructive back-row and a physical centre pairing that should allow Wales to neutralise the threat posed by the Samoans.
All eyes on:
For Wales Toby Faletau really announced himself on the international stage last week. It will be intriguing to see how the Tongan-born Number-Eight fares against a team from the Pacific. Alesana Tuilagi has been in devastating form recently for Samoa. The explosive wing has the potential to set the World Cup alight.
Head-to-head: Jamie Roberts v Seilala Mapusua
The physical confrontation between the two inside centres promises to be bruising. Who is in top at the gain line is likely to have a large bearing on the outcome of the game.
Last fixture: Wales 17-13 Samoa, Cardiff, November 13, 2009
Weather Forecast: Fine, albeit a little cloudy.
An unchanged Welsh side is reflective not of complacency, but of an increasing self-belief. This match has the potential to be as tough as the South African one, if not tougher. While a tight encounter is in store, I expect Wales to have learnt their lessons from Wellington, and come away with a result.
Wales by 7
by Paul French