Three Wits Varsity Cup players in Samoan colours
If the Golden Lions wanted a good, physical hit-out ahead of their Super Rugby promotion-relegation series, they could not have asked for anything better than Manu Samoa.
It may not be the Pacific Islanders' first choice selection that will face them at Ellis Park - there could be as many as 10 changes to the team for next week's Test against Scotland in Durban - but the Samoan selection for this Saturday is still very powerful.
Despite only having finalised his matchday 22 on Friday - problems at lock forced him to call up three players from the University of Witwatersrand Varsity Cup team - coach Stephen Betham on Friday revealed in interesting combination of European-based players, some from New Zealand and a few Samoan Sevens stars thrown in for good measure.
Captained by Stade Francais fullback Paul Williams, the Samoan starting XV also features Japan-based veterans like Seilala Mapusua and Alesana Tuilagi, and Exeter's Junior Poluleuligaga in the backline.
The forward pack have some hard men - like Ofisa Treviranus (London Irish), Alafoti Faosiliva (Bristol), James Johnston (Harlequins), Manu Leiataua (North Harbour) and Sam Aiono (Counties Manukau).
However, it is the selection of Sevens specialists like Fa'alemiga Selesele on the flank and Alatasi Tupou on the bench that could be the pointer as to what the Samoan tactics might be on Saturday.
The lock problem - with Japan-based Kane Thompson and Cardiff Blues second row forward Teofilo Paulo both ruled out - has seen Wits second row forward Charles Baggot starting in the No.5 jersey. His Wits teammates, Hannes Ludick and Jason Fraser, sitting on the bench.
However, the Samoan coach, Betham, is adamant this is not a 'second-rate' selection.
"We will give it our best shot, because it is important that we start this tour with a win," Betham told this website in an interview.
After Saturday's encounter with the Lions Samoa head into a four-nations tournament that also features hosts South Africa, Italy and Scotland - with the Scots first up for the Pacific Islanders in Durban on June 8.
"It has been very tricky to put the team together [this week], with so many of our [first-choice] players still involved in the French [Top 14] Final and other play-off matches [in England and Ireland]. There are also a number of our Super Rugby players that will only join us next week," he said, adding that about nine or 10 players will join the squad next week.
"However, this game is important for us to gauge where we are and to see if some of these players are capable of playing at this level," Betham said.
The Lions, who welcome back departing former captain JC Janse van Rensburg and loose forward Derick Minnie from the Sharks, see this as a vital game in their drive to regain Super Rugby status.
Coach Johan Ackermann is adamant the Samoan selection will be a good test for his team.
"They are an international team and they have players who are coming out of major competitions [like the English Premiership, French Top 14 and Pro12]," Ackermann told this website.
"Traditionally they are a powerful team and they are in the Boks' pool at the next World Cup, while they will also be playing in the four-nation Test series [starting next week].
"There is no doubt they will want to put certain things [game plan and structures] in place this weekend, so it will be a great test for ."
Ackermann also sees the game as a change for a large number of his players to get their first experience of top international rugby.
"Russia just isn't in the class of a team like Samoa and it will be a good test for the guys to see where we are at," the Lions mentor said.
He said he expects "typical Samoan rugby", an expansive game and powerful runners.
"They did use the driving maul remarkably often in their Tests [in November], something which the Pacific Island teams never used to do," Ackermann said, adding: "The one thing you do know about them is that every player in the team can run with the ball and that will be a huge challenge to our defence."
Players to watch:
For the Golden Lions: The midfield combination of Nicolaas Hanekom and Alwyn Hollenbach could cause the visitors a few problems, while flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff could use the opportunity to cement his place as back-up to Springbok Elton Jantjies ahead of the play-offs and Currie Cup season. Warren Whiteley, with the captaincy armband, will be the man to give the team direction.
For Samoa: Paul Williams, as captain, will have the spotlight firmly on him, but it is bruising backs like veterans Seilala Mapusua and Alesana Tuilagi that will cause the Lions' defenders the most headaches. Their pack, missing some key players, is something of an unknown quantity.
Head to head: Defence will be key for the Lions - with Deon van Rensburg (Lions) tasked to contain the 31-year-old wrecking ball Alesana Tuilagi (Samoa). Nicolaas Hanekom (Lions) will have a similar task against Seilala Mapusua (Samoa) in the midfield. Michael Bondesio (Lions) against veteran Junior Poluleuligaga (Samoa) could be another intriguing contest at scrumhalf.
The teams have not met before.
Prediction: It is a tough call to make, but given the fracture nature of the Samoans' preparation, you simply have to go with home ground advantage - the Lions to win by less than 10 points.
Golden Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley (Captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Gavin Annandale, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Derick Minnie, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Lionel Cronje, 22 Dylan des Fountain, 23 Ruan Combrinck/CJ van der Linde.
Samoa: 15 Paul Williams (captain), 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Seilala Mapusua, 12 Isaia Tuifua, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Ki Anufe, 9 Junior Poluleuligaga, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Fa'alemiga Selesele, 6 Alafoti Faosiliva, 5 Charles Baggot, 4 Fa'atiga Lemalu, 3 James Johnston, 2 Manu Leiataua, 1 Sam Aiono.
Replacements: 16 Wayne Ole Avei, 17 Sakaria Taulafo, 18 Logovi'i Mulipola, 19 Hannes Ludick, 20 Jason Fraser, 21 Alatasi Tupou, 22 Robert Lilomaiava, 23 Brandon Va'aulu.
Date: Saturday, June 1
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 14.30 (12.30 GMT)
Expected weather: It should be a dry, but cool day - making it ideal for an attractive game between two teams keen on running. High of 23°C and a low of 9°C.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Lesego Legoete (South Africa)
TMO: Ben Crouse (South Africa)
By Jan de Koning