England v Samoa preview: Steve Borthwick’s charges to maintain perfect record

Jared Wright
A split of England centre Manu Tuilagi and Samoa scrum-half Jonathan Taumateine during Rugby World Cup

England centre Manu Tuilagi and Samoa scrum-half Jonathan Taumateine during Rugby World Cup

England and Samoa wrap up their Rugby World Cup Pool D involvement on Saturday in what promises to be a bruising encounter.

Steve Borthwick’s charges head into the clash knowing that regardless of the result, they will top the group and face the runners-ups of Pool C, likely Fiji, in the quarter-finals.

Saturday’s game in Lille is the ninth time the two nations collide, with England boasting a perfect record of eight wins from eight.

Historically, England have the edge over Manu Samoa, but they will indeed face a challenging task this time around, as the Pacific Islanders still have a slim chance of making the play-offs but, perhaps even more importantly, could secure qualification for the 2027 World Cup.

For Borthwick, the clash provides the opportunity to iron out any shortcomings in England’s game and get minutes under the belt for key players and combinations.

One thing is for sure, Samoa will be out to make a good account of themselves after a self-confessed underwhelming showing in France to date.

Last time they met

What they said

For Samoa, a shock win could seal them passage to the quarter-finals, but they would need a draw in the Japan-Argentina game. However, Samoa’s forwards coach Tom Coventry believes that this match is still hugely important for the Pacific Islanders, who could seal automatic qualification for Rugby World Cup 2027.

“It is a do-or-die,” he said. “We came here with aspirations to possibly be a quarter-finalist. We need to think about qualifying and making our pathway easier for the next World Cup.

“England are a huge challenge, but we have been reasonably competitive against most of the nations that we’ve played.

“It’s just a lack of discipline at times. Playing with 14 men is never easy. You don’t win very often when you only have 14 men on the field for the period of time that we did [against Japan].

“There are other aspects of our game which weren’t good enough. Our ability to manage the big moments aren’t high, and we are just giving away too many penalties and ill-discipline with the cards. We need to sort that out.

“The best we’ve been was pre-season against Ireland when we gave away seven penalties for the whole game. That’s a formula for being in the big matches. It’s just too hard chasing games when you are down on numbers and in the heat.”

England boss Borthwick said he was eager for his side to be tested against the abrasive Samoan side after securing top spot in the group.

“Whilst we are, of course, pleased with our results and qualification into the pool stages, we want to continue our improvement with a positive performance against a difficult and in-form Samoa team,” he Borthwick.

“Samoa are renowned for their physicality, and this last game in the pool stages will be an excellent test for us as we continue in our Rugby World Cup journey.

“We are delighted to be heading back to Lille for this weekend’s fixture, where we enjoyed seeing so many England supporters for our last match. Once again, we look forward to seeing a sea of white England shirts in the stands of the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Saturday.”

Players to watch

England vice-captain Ellis Genge returns to the starting XV and goes toe-to-toe with Samoa’s Mike Ala’alatoa in a mouth-watering front-row battle. The powerhouse loosehead prop will be out to impose himself and cement his role in the starting line-up for the knockout stages.

Tom Curry has played just three minutes at this tournament after his sending-off against Argentina and makes his return against an abrasive Samoa side. The excellent back-rower also needs a standout shift to press his claim for starting minutes in the tournament’s latter stages. The talk from the camp is that the flanker has been superb in training, so let’s see if that translates onto the pitch.

For the first time in his career, Manu Tuilagi will front up against the country of his birth and the side his brothers represented. Billy Vunipola has already warned the centre that the Samoan players will be targeting him throughout the game, but he will have a similar outlook as he attempts to shine in the clash.

Saracens fans and players will be well aware of the threat that Theo McFarland poses, but it is one thing knowing about what he can do and another stopping him from doing it. The back-five forward is simply world-class and has so many weapons at his disposal, including his ability to offload, steal lineouts and hammer ball carriers backward.

Meanwhile, fellow back-rower Fritz Lee has been a dominant force for Manu Samoa both on and off the ball. The 35-year-old Clermont star has always been an abrasive tackler and physical ball carrier but has proved to be an incredible force over the ball this tournament. He has won six turnovers, a tournament-high ahead of the final batch of fixtures, and has been disruptive or won a turnover in 32% of the defensive rucks he has hit – the best success rate for players who have hit more than 15.

Don’t let the bleach-blonde He-Man-esque haircut fool you; scrum-half Jonathan Taumateine is a serious rugby player. An exciting presence around the breakdown with a swift, accurate pass, the Moana Pasifika half-back could cause England’s defence a few problems.

Prediction

Manu Samoa feel as if they have underperformed at the tournament and have struggled to replicate their pre-competition form in France. While they are likely to put up a massive fight against England, it is unlikely that they will be able to overpower this Red Rose outfit. England to win by 8.

Previous results

2017: England won 48-14 at Twickenham
2014: England won 28-9 at Twickenham
2010: England won 26-13 at Twickenham
2007: England won 44-22 in Nantes
2005: England won 40-3 at Twickenham
2003: England won 35-22 in Melbourne
1995: England won 27-9 at Twickenham
1995: England won 44-22 in Durban

The teams

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Joe Marchant, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Ollie Chessum, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 George Martin, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Danny Care, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Ollie Lawrence

Samoa: 15 Duncan Paia’aua, 14 Nigel Ah-Wong, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Danny Toala, 11 Neria Fomai, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Jonathan Taumateine, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Fritz Lee, 6 Theo McFarland, 5 Brian Alainu’u’ese, 4 Sam Slade, 3 Michael Alaalatoa (c), 2 Sama Malolo, 1 Jordan Lay
Replacements: 16 Seilala Lam, 17 James Lay, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Sootala Fa’aso’o, 20 Alamanda Motuga, 21 Melani Matavao, 22 Christian Leali’ifano, 23 Miracle Faiilagi

Date: Saturday, October 7
Venue: Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille
Kick-off: 17:45 local (16:45 BST, 15:45 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Nika Amashukeli (GRU), Chris Busby (IRFU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

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