Here we are: the first game of the international season. An understrength Australian side against an unknown Samoan one. How do you preview this game? I don’t know, but let’s see what happens.
The Australians have named an eclectic side: a mixture of new caps, old heads and last chancer players. Throw in some guys coming back from injury and you have only a couple of spot left to fill. The Queensland Reds players have, for the most part, been rested, with only Digby Ioane and Rod Davies making the run-on side. Davies was elevated to the XV after a late, and by all accounts minor, hamstring injury to James O’Connor.
The new caps are Davies, Sitaleki Timani, Nick Phipps, Pat McCabe and James Hanson. All have had good Super Rugby seasons. At 203 centimetres and 120 kilos Timani is a massive unit. Add his mobility to the equation and you come up with a player who could have a huge future in the Wallaby team. Here’s hoping his Wallabies teammates do a better job of staying out of his way than his Waratah confrères did. Nick Phipps was one of Melbourne’s best this season and deserves his crack here. The same can be said for McCabe: his fearless work for the Brumbies was a pleasure to watch. The two Reds players were stand-outs: Davies has improved his handling and defensive work this year, and his pace will always win him a start, while Hanson ran a very close second to Saia Faingaa all year and it’s only a different skill set that didn’t see him start more.
The old heads are Mark Gerrard, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau, Rocky Elsom, Nathan Sharpe and Stephen Moore. Gerrard is back in the team after playing overseas for a few years. He has been in good form in a beaten team ,but many punters wonder if he still has the speed for international rugby. He certainly is rugby-smart enough to be there. Adam Ashley-Cooper has had a poor year by his standards and could well be playing for his future here. Robbie Deans has done him a favour by putting the familar Giteau and McCabe in the backline with him. Rocky Elsom must be hoping to put in an 80-minute effort after his billion-year lay off. At least it feels like a long time since he played. Giteau, Sharpe and Moore pick themselves in almost any team. The only question is, why are they here, now? They all have a long international season in front of them and I wonder why they are running around in week one.
The last-chancers are Ben Alexander and Ashley-Cooper. I have already spoken of the latter but Alexander’s scrummaging deficiencies must be a real worry in the Wallaby camp. He has been heavily penalised during the Super season and the forward coaches will want to have a good look at his technique.
The Australian Side:
15. Mark Gerrard
14. Rod Davies
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper
12. Pat McCabe
11. Digby Ioane
10. Matt Giteau
9. Nick Phipps
8. Ben McCalman
7. Matt Hodgson
6. Rocky Elsom
5. Nathan Sharpe
4. Sitaleki Timani
3. Ben Alexander
2. Stephen Moore
1. Sekope Kepu
16. James Hanson
17. Pek Cowan
18. Dan Vickerman
19. Scott Higginbotham
20. Beau Robinson
21. Will Genia
22. Kurtley Beale
The Samoan side is a lot harder to analyse. I am unfamiliar with the vast majority of the team. The side that has played in the Pacific Nations Cup did not include the European- and Australasian-based players. This team has only trained together for a few days — in fact, some players were still arriving as late as Tuesday. While researching the Form Guide I found out that they are big and fast and maybe a whole lot fitter than many punters suspect. And by reading the websites of the clubs they play, I learned many are revered by the supporters of those clubs.
Manoa added this in the comments section.
Not sure how this Samoan side is unknown, they are some of the biggest name players at the biggest clubs in Europe. They have been together for about a month, but only played together in the first round of the Pacific Nations Cup against Japan winning 34-18, not a bad performance considering they were coming of long seasons, the majority of the players were then rested for the remaining rounds against Tonga and Fiji, although 5 players on the bench featured against Tonga on Wed and arrived on Thur. I expect them to be right in it up until about the 60 minute when fatigue will set in and player will begin to be rotated, their recent form is pretty good they probably should have beaten Ireland and only lost by 13 to the same england side that beat the wallabies by 17 the week before at Twickenham. Australia by 16.
I thought it added a fair bit of information and decided to add it here.
The Samoan Team:
15. Paul Williams (Sale Sharks, UK)
14. Sailosi Tagicakibau (London Irish, UK)
13. George Pisi (ASM Clermont Ferrand, France)
12. Seilala Mapusua (Vc) (Ricoh,Japan)
11. Alesana Tuilagi (Leicester, UK)
10. Tusi Pisi (Suntory, Japan)
9. Kahn Fotuali’i (Crusaders NZ)
8. George Stowers (Ospreys, UK)
7. Maurie Fa’asavalu (Harlequins UK)
6. Taisina Tuifu’a (Counties, NZ)
5. Daniel Leo (Bordeaux Begles, France)
4. Kane Thompson (Hawkes Bay, NZ)
3. Anthony Perenise (Hurricanes, NZ)
2. Mahonri Schwalger (Captain) (Highlanders, NZ )
1. Sakaria Taulafo (Wasps, UK)
16. Tii Paulo (ASM Clermont Ferrand)
17. Census Johnston (Hawkes Bay/Toulouse)
18. Filipo Lavea Levi (Free Agent)
19. Manaia Salavea (Narbonne, Samoa)
20. Brenton Helleur (North Harbour, NZ)
21. Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu (Gloucester, UK)
22. James So’oialo (Wellington, NZ)
The Samoans have good height in the forwards and a weight advantage in most positions. If we can go on past performances they will have good ball skills and impressive tackling skills. The Australians should have a speed advantage and should be technically better in set pieces.
I know I haven’t really made things clearer here! But I don’t know enough about the Samoans to give you any more detail. I am looking forward to the game, to see how both teams go. The Samoan national team has always been one of my favourites to watch, and I believe the Wallabies are building towards something special. So I can say for sure that tomorrow’s match will be entertaining, and when it’s over we will all know a lot more about both sides.