Wales taking no chances against Samoa
November 11, 2009
Dan Biggar starts at fly-half for Wales © Getty Images
Wales failed to end their losing run against the All Blacks at the Millennium Stadium last weekend and have taken no chances in their selection as they prepare to face another of their bogey teams.
Their record against hard-hitting Samoa stands at three wins apiece, with Wales having been on the end of two humbling defeats at Rugby World Cups. The sides will again face off at the sport's global gathering in 2011 and Wales boss Warren Gatland is keen to steal an early march.
Rather than make the expected raft of changes from the side that fell to New Zealand, he has made only five. The most interesting comes at fly-half where young Ospreys product Dan Biggar will win his fourth cap in place of the rested Stephen Jones.
Shane Williams, Martyn Williams and Matthew Rees are the other players to be rested, giving opportunities to Tom James on the wing and Sam Warburton on the openside. Experienced hooker Huw Bennett slots in for Rees after coming off the bench last weekend.
James Hook continues at fullback, having been ousted from the Ospreys' fly-half jersey this season by Biggar. The youngster is surrounded by international class, with Dwayne Peel starting at scrum-half in the final change following his frustrating omission from the All Blacks game thanks to a Premier Rugby ban on player release.
Jamie Roberts and Tom Shanklin are the centres, with Leigh Halfpenny also backing up on the wing. In the pack, Alun-Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris get another opportunity together in the second-row and Gethin Jenkins and Paul James are again the options at prop.
Samoa have been hampered in the build-up by a lack of preparation time, although they will be keen to get on the field following a difficult time. The game will be used to raise funds to help with the relief effort following a devastating Tsunami affecting the Pacific islands, with many players' families caught in the aftermath.
London Irish flanker George Stowers will captain the tourists and is joined in the starting side by fellow Exile Seilala Mapusua. Wasps wing David Lemi will provide the spark out-wide and Newcastle Falcons lock Filipo Levi is returning to Wales after a brief stint with the Ospreys last season. Former Scarlets hooker Mahonri Schwalger, now at Sale, will also be up against some familiar faces and starts in a powerful front-row alongside Justin Va'a and Census Johnston.
Mapusua, a former Guinness Premiership player of the year, is relishing his tussle with Roberts and is hopeful that his side can deliver some entertainment. "I haven't played against Jamie Roberts before, but he's a quality footballer," Mapusua said. "He's a big man, but he has got silky hands and is deceptively quick. Him and (All Blacks centre) Ma'a Nonu had a real good battle last weekend.
"Roberts is the guy to get Wales going forward, which is what he's good at, and alongside him Tom Shanklin is another quality player with great feet and great hands. We will have our work cut out, but in saying that, we will be going out to try to do what we do best. And dare I say it, try and entertain."
Wales: J Hook (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), T James (Cardiff Blues); D Biggar (Ospreys), D Peel (Sale Sharks); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), H Bennett (Ospreys), P James (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), A Powell (Cardiff Blues), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt)
Replacements: M Rees (Scarlets), C Mitchell (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Roberts (Scarlets), J Davies (Scarlets), M Stoddart (Scarlets)
Samoa: L Lui (Apia); D Lemi (Wasps), G Williams (Clermont Auvergne), S Mapusua (London Irish), A Tuilagi (Apia); F Fili (Wellington), J Polu (Bay of Plenty); J Va'a (Glasgow), M Schwalger (Sale Sharks), C Johnston (Toulouse); F Levi (Newcastle), I Tekori (Castres); G Stowers (London Irish, capt), O Treviranis (Apia West), H Tuilagi (Perpignan)
Replacements: A Williams (Apia West), S Taulafo (Tasman), K Thompson (Dax), J Faamatuianu (Bath), U Mai (Apia West), H Fa'afili (Leeds Carnegie), T Esau (Apia West)
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Dave Pearson (England), Rob Debney (England)
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter
While the Super Rugby season enters the all-important knockout phase, elsewhere pre-season training never looked so enjoyable. We round-up the best snaps in our Week in Pictures