Pool D preview: Samoa v Namibia
Samoa enter the World Cup against Namibia in Rotorua on Wednesday still basking in the glow of their pinnacle victory over the Wallabies two months ago.
The Samoans made the rugby world sit up and take notice when they scored four tries in humbling the Aussies 32-23 in Sydney, just prior to the Wallabies becoming Tri-Nations champions for the first time in a decade.
Samoa are in arguably the toughest pool at the World Cup - with South Africa, Wales, Fiji and Namibia - where at least four teams boast credentials worthy of filling one of the two quarterfinal berths.
Samoans comprise the largest Pacific island ethnic group in New Zealand and will get huge support as they battle the odds to reach the last eight in the tournament, beginning with the 20th-ranked Namibia.
But based on their stunning ambush of the Wallabies, the 10th-ranked Samoans have every chance of denting a few more reputations before this seventh edition of the Webb Ellis Cup is over.
"I think our supporters are still dining out on that Wallaby win," hooker Tii Paulo said.
"It's given our boys a lot of confidence, being on the world stage again.
"But there's also added pressure with that. That's the standard we've set and anything below that won't be acceptable."
The Samoans have every reason to be confident of making an impact in New Zealand with nine wins in their 20 RWC games, including the scalps of Wales twice in 1991 and 1999 as well as a fierce encounter with England (22-35) in 2003.
But before Wales in Hamilton next Sunday they have to safely launch their 2011 campaign against the Namibians, who provided Fiji with a stiff challenge before going down 42-25 in Rotorua on Saturday.
Two-time quarterfinalists Fiji were forced to defend for much of the match as Namibia, orchestrated by flyhalf Theuns Kotze, kept their opponents on the back foot for much of the second half.
Samoa had few problems in beating Namibia 40-13 in their only meeting in Windhoek in 2003, but an unexpected loss here would be catastrophic to their chances of progressing out of Pool D.
"We just watched some video of them. They've got a really good skill set. I think those kind of teams are unpredictable," France-based Paulo said.
"They like to use a bit of width, like we do. They've got some silky runners and skilful backs. I think they'll try to move the ball on us."
But when the Samoans are drawn together from their overseas clubs they forge a unit renowned for a powerful, confrontational style and Springbok captain John Smit described the first 20 minutes of his 2007 World Cup match against Samoa as "the most physical of my Test career."
The forward pack is big and experienced, led by Otago Highlanders hooker Mahonri Schwalger along with Toulouse prop Census Johnston and Ospreys back row George Stowers.
The backs include former IRB Sevens Player of the Year Uale Mai, while former London Irish centurion Seilala Mapusua guides the midfield with Paul Williams from Stade Francais.
Namibia know they will have their hands full containing the sheer menacing physicality of the Pacific islanders, but they have the advantage of having already played at this World Cup.
"We know it is going to be Samoa's first game, and they are going to come out blazing. They have a lot of pride," wing Conrad Marais said.
"It's going to be tougher (than the match against Fiji), they have a lot more structure."
Players to Watch:
For Samoa: The Pacific Islanders have a number of players capable of making a massive impact, but wing Alesana Tuilagi and centre Seilala Mapusua stand out as the biggest threats in the backline. Tuilangi is a powerful wing with both speed and size on his side and he'll be a handful given any space to work with, while Mapusua is a stalwart in the midfield who will make his tackles count and has all the skills to be one of the best players at the tournament.
For Namibia: Skipper Jacques Burger is a crucial member of the Namibian side, with his ability to turn over ball vital to keep the team in the game. Flyhalf Theuns Kotze displayed his class against Fiji and has the ability to marshal his troops effectively as the team's chief playmaker.
Head to Head: The front row battle will be key, Samoa have become a strong scrummaging unit, with the likes of Mahonri Schwalger and Census Johnston having learnt their dark art over many seasons. The Namibian trio of Raoul Larson, Hugo Horn, Johnnie Redelinghuys will have their work cut out for them to keep the scrum intact.
2003: Samoa won 40-13 in Windhoek
Prediction: Namibia were full value against Fiji and proved themselves worthy to be at the tournament, but to face Samoa only four days later will be tough. The fact that they have such a short turn around implies that they're regarded as little more than cannon fodder. Samoa are arguably the strongest of the three Pacific Island nations at the World Cup and will want to set down their marker. Samoa to win by at least 30 points.
Samoa: 15 Paul Williams, 14 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 13 George Pisi, 12 Seilala Mapusua, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 George Stowers, 7 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 6 Taiasina Tuifua, 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Daniel Leo, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Mahonri Schwalger (captain), 1 Sakaria Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Census Johnston, 18 Joe Tekori, 19 Ofisa Treviranus, 20 Junior Poluleuligaga, 21 Eliota Sapolu Fuimaono, 22 Tasesa Lavea.
Namibia: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Danie Dames, 13 Danie van Wyk, 12 Piet van Zyl, 11 Llewellyn Winkler, 10 Theuns Kotze, 9 Eugene Jantjies, 8 Pieter Jan van Lill, 7 Jacques Burger (captain), 6 Jacques Nieuwenhuis, 5 Henk Franken, 4 Heinz Koll, 3 Raoul Larson, 2 Hugo Horn, 1 Johnnie Redelinghuys.
Replacements: 16 Bertus O'Callaghan, 17 Jane du Toit, 18 Nico Esterhuyse, 19 Rohan Kitshoff, 20 Ryan de la Harpe, 21 Darryl de la Harpe, 22 TC Losper.
Date: Wednesday, September 14
Venue: International Stadium, Rotorua
Kick-off: 14.30 (02.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Showers clearing during the morning and becoming fine with a strong southwesterly gale. High of 18°C, low of 10°C.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Jérôme Garces (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
AFP and rugby365.com