Wales – RWC semi-finalists and Six Nations champs – are under pressure to avoid five straight defeats when they take on Samoa.
Wales – World Cup semi-finalists and current Six Nations champs – are under pressure to avoid five straight defeats when they take on Samoa on Friday.
The hosts are chasing their first victory since beating the Barbarians more than five months ago having lost all three Tests to Australia in June, before they came horribly unstuck against Argentina.
Indeed, the Welsh are still reeling from the disappoinment of last weekend's loss in Cardiff, where they turned in their worst performance since folding to defeat against France in the 2011 Six Nations.
Wales played clueless rugby throughout their clash with the Pumas and you wonder where the form of the Grand Slam and World Cup has now gone.
Warren Gatland – preparing for next year's British and Irish Lions tour to Australia – would have watched and wondered what he is coming into later in the month when he takes charge again. And the last thing interim coach Rob Howley would have wanted is the sight of bogey-side Samoa looming large on the horizon.
The big-hitting South Sea Islanders already have a win on tour under their belt this week after cruising past Canada 42-13 at Colwyn Bay. But despite their contrasting fortunes, Samoa will be expecting a fierce response at the Millennium Stadium as Wales bid to put their November Test series back on track.
It won't be easy though. Samoa claimed victories in Cardiff in 1991 and 1999, and were narrowly beaten 17-13 when the sides last met in the Welsh capital in 2009. More recently, Wales edged a bruising World Cup pool stage encounter when they were forced to make 142 tackles on their way to a narrow 17-10 win in New Zealand just over a year ago.
Be that as it may, Argentina didn't do the Samoans any favours and Wales will be smarting over that 26-12 humbling in their own backyard and making sure they get things right. If they don't, the Dragons' chances of securing a top-four seeding at the 2015 World Cup will take another nosedive.
At the moment, Wales are clinging on to their current world ranking of sixth by the skin of their teeth after last week's defeat with New Zealand and Australia still to come over the next three weeks.
“The win is even more important to us now. We still have a great opportunity in this series and we have worked too hard to let up now,” said Wales number eight Toby Faletau, who was undoubtedly the most positive aspect of Wales' performance against Argentina.
“We have the chance to put right some of the things we got wrong against the Pumas. We know we are better than we showed last weekend and Friday is the time to prove it.”
Ones to watch:
For Wales: In-form Ospreys loosie Justin Tipuric has been handed the Wales number seven shirt in place of captain Sam Warburton – current favourite to skipper the British and Irish Lions in Australia next year. The 23-year-old openside flanker's tackling, speed off the ground and work-rate around the pitch will all be vital ingredients in Wales' new selection mix.
For Samoa: Kahn Fotuali'i's influence will be crucial as the former Crusaders scrum-half prepares to face several of his Ospreys colleagues. Fotuali'i, in superb form for the Ospreys this season, has first-hand knowledge of Welsh rugby thanks to his stint at Liberty Stadium and will also be able to provide an insight on his regional half-back colleague Dan Biggar as the pair prepare to face each other.
Head to head: Toby Faletau v Taiasina Tuifua. How things shape between the heavies in the respective packs will influence which team gets greater licence for destructiveness, no doubt. Faletau and Tuifua – one of seven British-based players in Samoa's XV – have very similar physical dimensions and share an astonishing level of effervescence and work ethic. Faletau may just have an edge but there's no guarantee that his opposite number won't still strive to go that extra mile…
Prediction: A close one but Wales to edge it by 3!
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Ryan Jones (capt), 5 Ian Evans, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.
Samoa: 15 Faatoina Autagavaia, 14 Paul Perez, 13 George Pisi, 12 Paul Williams, 11 David Lemi (capt), 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Taiasina Tuifua, 7 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 6 Ofisa Treviranus, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Daniel Leo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Ole Avei, 1 Sakaria Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Villiamu Afatia, 18 James Johnston, 19 tbc, 20 Tivaini Fomai, 21 Jeremy Su'a, 22 Johnny Leota, 23 Robert Lilomaiava.
Date: Friday, November 16
Kick-off: 19:30 GMT
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), JÃ©rÃ´me Garces (France)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)