Fiji and Samoa scrap for survival
September 23, 2011
Nicky Little has been recalled by Fiji for Sunday's pivotal game against Samoa in Auckland © Getty Images
Both Fiji and Samoa know that nothing less than victory will suffice in their mouth-watering Rugby World Cup Pool D clash in Auckland on Sunday.
With Fiji having suffered a surprisingly brutal defeat at the hands of the Springboks last weekend and Samoa coming out on the wrong side of a 17-10 scoreline in their clash with Wales, whichever side loses at Eden Park will have no chance of reaching the quarter-finals.
The Fijians perhaps always suspected that they would find themselves needing to beat Samoa to keep their interest in the tournament alive, even if they did go into their clash with South Africa thinking that Peter de Villiers' side might be there for the taking in light of the Boks' narrow and highly fortuitous victory over the Welsh on the opening weekend.
However, Samoa had high hopes of beating Wales in Hamilton last Sunday - and feel that they would have done so had the game not come just four days after their meeting with Namibia in Rotorua. Indeed, it was notable that the Welsh only took control of an incredibly tight contest in the final quarter, at a point when the Samoans were visibly tiring. Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu's subsequent claim that the International Rugby Board's treatment of Samoa is akin to slavery, the holocaust and apartheid was offensive and ill-advised - but the Gloucester centre's frustration was understandable.
However, there is nothing that can be done about the scheduling now and the challenge for Samoa head coach Titimaea Tafua is to channel his players' bitterness into a positive, motivating force in this weekend's must-win meeting with Fiji.
Fiji, though, will hardly be lacking in motivation themselves. Indeed, victory over Samoa would set up a winner-takes-all clash with Wales on the final weekend of the pool stages - a scenario which would bring back happy memories for the South Sea Islanders given that they eliminated the Welsh in exactly those circumstances in France four years ago.
Fiji - Player to Watch: It has to be Nicky Little. The veteran fly-half, who is playing in his fourth World Cup, has been recalled to the Fijian starting line-up for this crunch clash, with head coach Samu Domoni probably quite rightly deciding that Little's vast experience could prove crucial on the day.
Fiji - Team News: Little has been preferred to Waisea Luveniyali at No.10 in the only change to the back-line which faced the Springboks. There are, however, four changes up front. Dominiko Waqaniburotu misses out through suspension and his place at blindside flanker goes to Netani Talei, who will be joined in the back-row by Mala Ravulo and Sisa Koyamaibole, with openside Akapusi Qera and No.8 Sakiusa Matadigo the men to make way. The final change comes in the second-row, with Seko Kalou recalled at the expense of Wame Lewaravu, who drops out of the matchday 22.
Samoa - Player to Watch: Fullback Paul Williams has proven a reliable source of points for Samoa so far but he did miss kick two kicks on goal in the loss to Wales. It is imperative that he take every chance which comes his way in what is likely to be a desperately tight affair on Sunday.
Samoa - Team News: Tusi Pisi returns at fly-half in place of Tasesa Lavea after being forced to pull out of last weekend's defeat by Wales at the last minute. In the pack, Census Johnston takes over at tight-head from Anthony Perenise, who drops to the bench in spite of the fact that he registered Samoa's only try against the Welsh, while Taiasina Tuifua reclaims the No.6 jersey from Ofisa Treviranus after recovering from the rib injury he sustained in the Samoa's tournament opener against Namibia.
Key Battle: It might not decide the game but two wingers who possess power and pace in equal measure will collide at Eden Park as Fiji's Vereniki Goneva and Samoa's Alesana Tuilagi go head to head. Expect some almighty collisions as they try to add to their respective hat-tricks against Namibia!
Stats: Brian Lima is Samoa's record World Cup try-scorer, having dotted 10 times in 18 appearances.
Trivia: Nicky Little is the first Fijian to have played at four Rugby World Cups.
"I can't be more confident than this, otherwise I'll have to put the boots on and run out myself. This is it. These are the guys who will take Fiji forward."
"Ok, it's obvious the IRB are unjust. Wales get 7 days, we get 3. Unfair treatment, like slavery, like the holocaust, like apartheid."
Prediction: This one is almost too close to call but we're tipping Samoa. The Fijians should be the fresher of the two sides but if Samoa's stamina can hold up it is they who have the slightly greater potency behind the scrum and that should decide the game in their favour. It will be tight, though.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Munster, No.8s, the imploding Australians, wonderful Glasgow and Lancaster's dilemma - it is Monday Maul time
As Ewen McKenzie exits stage left, the ARU remains under huge pressure, with CEO Bill Pulver feeling the brunt of Australian rugby's displeasure, Greg Growden writes
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the remarkable events in Brisbane and the first round of the European Rugby Champions Cup
Following Saturday's shock announcement, we look at the highs and the lows of Ewen McKenzie's brief stint as Wallabies coach.