Italy's clash with Samoa in Nelspruit on Saturday could well be the highlight of the quadrangular series in South Africa.
Italy's clash with Samoa at the Mbombela Stadium on Saturday could well be the highlight of the quadrangular series in South Africa from a neutral fans' perspective.
Ranked tenth and seventh respectively in the IRB world rankings, clashes between these sides have been rare occurrences over the years with their last meeting dating back to four years ago.
Much has changes since as both have made significant strides in becoming recognised forces in world rugby. Italy are finally developing a threatening attacking amongst their backs while the Islanders can now rely on steady set pieces.
Neither side has lost any of their infamous physicality though, so fans in Nelspruit are set to witness some bone-crunching tackles.
“It is part of our game to be physical,” said Samoa coach Stephen Betham ahead of the Nelspruit Test, “although we are trying to vary our style with other options that can make us stronger.”
Last week's bruising win over the Scotland, who treated 15 post-match casualties, was confirmation of Samoa's new-found place in the world hierarchy but also underlined their reputation as an unpredictable force after they suffered a humiliating 60-point loss to relegated Super Rugby franchise the Lions just a week earlier.
“We crave consistency rather than performing well one weekend and badly the next. Samoans have natural flair and physical attributes, but they must hold their own at the set pieces too,” stressed Betham, who previously coached the Samoa Sevens side.
While Samoa will be pleased with their win over the Scots, especially their second-half performance, Italy coach Jacques Brunel will expect his team to make a huge step up from their disappointing loss to the Springboks.
The Azzurri were no where in the first half-hour and their French coach will want to see a significant rise in intensity.
Brunel reacted to a 44-10 defeat in Durban by making seven changes, including the axing of 32-year-old fly-half Alberto Di Bernardo after a disappointing first Test appearance.
Back comes another Argentina-born playmaker, Luciano Orquera, to fill the number ten jersey and there are also recalls for centres Gonzalo Canale and Gonzalo Garcia, tight-head prop Martin Castrogiovanni and flank Mauro Bergamasco.
“This team is a good blend of experience,” said Brunel of a team that will be led by outstanding number eight Sergio Parisse and includes six Treviso stars and five from Zebre.
The one change to the Samoa team that started against Scotland is in the front row with Sakaria Taulafo from Stade FranÃ§ais coming in at loose-head for Logovi'i Mulipola, who drops to the bench. The addition of Clermont hooker Ti'i Paulo to the bench is also a boost.
Points and bonus points from the first and second rounds will be totalled and Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria hosts the June 22 classification matches for first and third places in the four-nation tournament.
Players to watch:
For Italy: After being left out last week, fly-half Luciano Orquera will want to show that he is the man for the job. Orquera's inconsistency saw him in and out of the starting XV during the Six Nations but after Alberto di Bernardo failed to impress last week, he has a chance to consolidate his position as the first-choice pivot.
For Samoa: Japan-based wing Alesana Tuilagi poses a huge threat.Tuilagi weighs 117 kilograms, is 1.85 metres tall, and panic can spread quickly through opposing defences when he receives the ball on the left touchline. Scotland will testify to the threat the former Leicester Tigers star poses as he scored two tries in a 27-17 triumph last Saturday in his first appearance for the Pacific islanders for several years.
Head-to-head: It all starts up from in the front rows. Both sides have quality tighheads in Martin Castrogiovanni and Census Johnston who will want to stamp their authority not only at scrum time but in the tight-loose.
2009: Italy won 24-6, Ascoli Piceno
2001: Samoa won 17-9, L'Aquila
2000: Samoa won 43-24, Apia
1995:Samoa won 42-18, East London
Prediction: It should be a tight contest but judging by last week's form, we'll back the Islanders.Samoa by ten points
Italy:15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Tommaso Iannone, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Mauro Bergamasco , 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Valerio Bernabo, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements:16 Andrea Manici, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Tobias Botes , 22 Alberto di Bernardo, 23 Luke Mclean,
Samoa:15 James So'oialo, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Paul Williams (capt), 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Jeremy Sua, 8 Taiasina Tuifua, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Ofisa Treviranus, 5 Daniel Leo, 4 Teofilo Paulo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Wayne Ole Avei, 1 Sakaria Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Logovii Mulipola, 18 James Johnston, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Junior Poluleuligaga, 21 Brando Vaaulu, 22 Seilala Mapusua, 23 Piula Faasalele.
Date: Saturday, June 15
Kick-off: 14:15 local
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Weather: 21Â°C. Sunny
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Tiaan Jonker (South Africa)
Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)
Assessor: Nigel Williams