Preview: Samoa v South Africa

Date published: September 25 2015

Samoa have never beaten South Africa. But neither had Japan. The Springboks will be playing for their Rugby World Cup lives in Birmingham on Saturday.

With Samoa, Japan and Scotland all having picked up a win already, Pool B is wide open and another defeat for South Africa is almost certain to see the double world champions crash out of the tournament.

It's been said many times that the other teams in this group will take massive encouragement from the Brave Blossoms' shock defeat of the pool favourites, but the truth is they will be armed with far more than just additional self belief.

Eddie Jones has provided underdogs from around the world with a template of how to pick apart South Africa's ever-predictable – albeit historically successful – game plan.

Kick-offs along the ground, quick scrum feeds, throws over the top of the lineout and above all, incredible pace at reaching the breakdown area, are all useful ways to combat the Boks' strength in structured situations and set pieces.

A handful of pro-South African rugby writers have been at pains to stress that the Boks steered away from their traditional strengths by trying to play too much rugby against Japan. It has also emerged that the team management are frustrated by the way their players did not stick to the plan, arrogantly underestimating the Japanese, and coach Heyneke Meyer has repeatedly stressed how they will now revert to type, kick tactically and keep phase play down to a minimum for the rest of the tournament.

Even so, the Japan game highlighted the painful predictability of the Bok style which more often than not has a forward at first receiver and leaves very little guess work to be done by the opposition defence.

There has been very little by the way of technical explanations coming for the way the Boks were outplayed in Brighton, only promises to raise their levels of physicality and intensity.

With Samoa's reputation for big hits, Saturday's clash at Villa Park was always going to be a bruising encounter, but judging by the quotes coming out of the Bok camp this week, it's going to be brutal. It's going to be a demolition derby of biblical proportions.

Indeed, the return of Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen to the Bok starting XV will add some real grunt to a team dying to prove a point.

"We're up against a very angry team this weekend," said veteran Samoan prop Census Johnston.

"I don't think Japan did us any favours. We always knew South Africa was going to be a huge test, but they've just made it worse for us because they are going to be breathing fire this weekend.

"We have to fight fire with fire."

But the Islanders were always going to bring fireworks, because they have a point of their own to prove.

Four years ago, Samoa felt very hard done by when they lost 13-5 in a gripping RWC Pool game that involved a controversial red card and a lot a bruised bodies. 10 of their matchday 23 were involved in that game.

The strength of the South African bench saw them home in that game but the Boks have made a bad habit of fading in the final quarter this year. Samoa have some big guns on the bench this time around in the form of hooker Ole Avei, Hurricanes flank Faifili Levave and playmaker Tusi Pisi.

Samoa have an opportunity to rewrite history and take control of Pool B in the process, while South Africa must bear the weight of a disgruntled and demanding rugby nation.

The stakes are high, the spectacle should be engrossing.

Players to watch:

For Samoa: Coach Stephen Betham sprang a bit of a surprise on Thursday when he named Mike Stanley at fly-half. The 25-year-old Ulster player has been given the nod because of his strong kicking game ahead of the attacking threat brought by Tusi Pusi. Samoa cannot afford to leave points by the wayside from the kicking tee and they must combat South Africa's territorial-based approach, meaning Stanley's boot could provide the key to their success. Similarly, Joe Tekori must produce the goods at lineout time, especially when Victor Matfield chooses to contest Samoan throws and when cleaning out rucks.

For South Africa: It's last-chance saloon for Bok captain Jean de Villiers, who has been the focus of much attention this week, but he won't hold the keys to this result, even if moving a man with no pace left to 13 doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Cometh the hour, cometh the two men who are arguably at the heart of how Heyneke Meyer wants to play, Duane Vermeulen and Fourie du Preez. Vermeulen has been thrown straight back into the starting line up after three months out following neck surgery. His ball carrying strength and skills at the breakdown have been sorely missed but it remains to be seen if he will be at his best. So far, the gamble of backing players returning from injury has not paid off for Meyer. Du Preez had a positive impact when he came on last week to play his first 20-odd minutes of Test rugby in 15 months. His game management and tactical kicking will be decisive.

Head-to-head: With both teams likely to focus on cashing-in on turnover ball, two of the world's most exciting counter-attacking players face off as Willie le Roux takes on Tim Nanai-Williams. The Samoan full-back was one of the stars of the first round of RWC action and will be the focal point of his team's attack. Meanwhile, Le Roux, who has been luke warm this year, will be relied upon to bring some x-factor to the Boks' one-dimensional approach. Both men carry huge responsibilities.

Team news: There are four changes to Samoa's starting XV from the 25-16 win over USA with fly-half Mike Stanley, flank TJ Ioane, prop Census Johnston and hooker Motu Matu'u all coming into the team for their first RWC starts.

Meanwhile, there are eight changes in personnel plus two positional switches compared the Springbok XV that lost to Japan. Damian de Allende starts at 12 in an entirely revamped backline that includes a new half-back combination. Number eight Vermeulen returns from injury while Adriaan Strauss starts at hooker with Bismarck du Plessis dropped from the matchday 23.

Previous results:

2013: South Africa won 56-23 in Pretoria
2011: South Africa won 13-5 in Albany
2007: South Africa won 59-7 in Paris
2007: South Africa won 35-8 in Johannesburg
2003: South Africa won 60-10 in Brisbane
2002: South Africa won 60-18 in Pretoria
1995: South Africa won 42-14 in Johannesburg
1995: South Africa won 60-8 in Samoa

Prediction: There will be blood in Birmingham. Despite last week's upset, South Africa's track record cannot be ignored. South Africa by six points.

The teams:

Samoa: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Paul Perez, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Mike Stanley, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Ofisa Treviranus (c), 7 Jack Lam, 6 TJ Ioane, 5 Joe Tekori, 4 Teofilo Paulo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Zak Taulafo
Replacements: 16 Ole Avei, 17 Viliami Afatia, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Vavae Tuilagi, 21 Vavao Afemai, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 George Pisi

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jesse Kriel.

Date: Saturday, September 26 
Venue: Villa Park, Birmingham
Kick-off: 16:45 local (15:45 GMT)
Weather: 17 degrees, sunny
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)  
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO:  Graham Hughes (England)

By Ross Hastie