Islanders set for all-out World Cup war

By David Leggat

Samoa supporters during the team's clash with Wales. Photo / Getty Images
Samoa supporters during the team's clash with Wales. Photo / Getty Images

Go in search of the most important match of this Rugby World Cup weekend and you'll do well to find a game with more riding on it than the Pacific Island clash at Eden Park tomorrow.

Only Argentina and Scotland in Wellington tomorrow night can rival it for potential significance.

Why? Take a look at the Pool D points table for the answer.

Let's pencil in South Africa as group winners. Samoa, Wales and Fiji are vying for the runners-up spot and on track for a quarter-final against Ireland. One point covers those three teams and they sit in that order.

So first tick off the possible outcomes.

* Fiji win, and open the door for a big rails run into the last eight if they can then topple Wales in what could be an all-or-nothing final pool game in Hamilton on October 2. A bonus point? All the better.

* Samoa win with a bonus point and give themselves a sniff - which would become a mighty big snort if they can somehow crib a point off the Springboks in their last game in Wellington next weekend - and hope Fiji beat the Welsh.

Wales should beat Namibia - who are on another joke three-day turnaround - in New Plymouth on Monday, so saying there's a bit riding on tomorrow's contest is like suggesting Beethoven knew his way around a tune.

Fiji first. Disappointing in their 49-3 loss to South Africa, they have made five changes, with 35-year-old Nicky Little to play his record-enhancing 70th test.

He is at his fourth World Cup, is Fiji's highest points scorer and his organisational nous will be crucial.

Half the forward pack are gone, including a fresh loose forward trio, partly down to the suspension of Dominiko Waqaniburotu.

That player has appealed against his three-game ban for dumping Springbok fullback Patrick Lambie in dangerous fashion. It will be heard at Eden Park today.

Perhaps the key for Fiji lies in stirring their passion for the game, and then the players lasting the journey.

"We as coaches can speak tactically and can talk statistically, but we've really got to ignite the flame within," said assistant coach Shannon Fraser.

So step forward former captain Mosese Rauluni, a classy player at three past tournaments whom Fraser credits with being responsible for 80 per cent of the squad's morale during the cup.

"His leadership skills and what he does to develop morale and spirit is incredibly infectious," Fraser said.

Of their 46 clashes, Fiji have won 27, lost 17. Of their last 10 meetings, it's Fiji ahead 6-4. But take little note of that.

With a capacity 60,000 on hand tomorrow, throw much of the analytical study of each team's merits into the bin. Emotions will be roaring out of the stands and stirring the souls.

Samoa were disappointing in losing to Wales in Hamilton last weekend. They can cavil at some of referee Alain Rolland's rulings, but their failure to deliver the highly charged running rugby their good name is built on was their own doing.

Afterwards the coaches talked about players using patterns developed in training.

That hinted at a more buttoned-down, Anglo-Saxon approach. Many of them are now playing professionally around the globe.

On one hand it has improved the rugby quality in skill terms; but has it squeezed out part of that devil which has thrilled and been a byword for Samoan rugby?

Sure they'd occasionally drop a clanger, but think of the vibrant rugby they produced. The trick lies in harnessing the disciplines of the professional game with their instincts.

And surely they must get left wing Alesana Tuilagi into the game far more than he was utilised against Wales. That was certainly a trick missed.

Samoa have made three changes from the Welsh loss.

Former North Harbour back Tusi Pisi is at first five-eighths, having recovered from a hamstring strain.

Blindside flanker Taiasina Tuifua, recently departed from Counties Manukau and heading for England's Newcastle Falcons, has got over damaged ribs from the opening win over Namibia, and bulky prop Census Johnston replaces tryscorer against Wales Anthony Perenise.

Any thoughts drifting towards the South African game should be swiftly dispatched. Lose to Fiji and it won't much matter.

"We knew when we arrived here that we'd have to either beat the Welsh or the South Africans, and the Fijians to get through," assistant coach Tom Coventry said. "I think the equation is pretty simple for us."

Too right. A rip-snorting first cup meeting between neighbours lies ahead.

FIJI v SAMOA
Eden Park, 3.30pm tomorrow

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ)Kini Murimurivalu

FIJI
Vereniki Goneve
Gavy Lovobalavu
Seremaia Bai
Naipolioni Nalaga
Nicky Little
Nemia Kenatale
Sisa Koyamaibole
Mala Ravulo
Netani Talei
Leone Nakarawa
Seko Kalou
Deacon Manu (c)
Sunia Koto
Campese Ma'afu
Reserves: Talemaitoga Tuapati, Setefano Somoca, Rupeni Nasiga, Akapusi Qera, Vitori Buatava, Albert James Vulivuli, Waisea Luveniyali.

SAMOA
Paul Williams
Sailosi Tagicakibau
George Pisi
Seilala Mapusua
Alesana Tuilagi
Tusi Pisi
Kahn Fotuali'i
George Stowers
Maurie Faasavalu
Taiasina Tuifua
Kane Thompson
Daniel Leo
Census Johnston
M. Schwalger (c)
Sakaria Taulafo
Reserves: Ti'i Paulo, Anthony Perenise, Filipo Levi, Manaia Salavea, Jeremy Sua, Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu, James So'oialo.

- NZ Herald

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