Wales under pressure to stay in playoffs hunt
Updated: September 16, 2011, 18:12
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HAMILTON, New Zealand(AP) Wales coach Warren Gatland hasn't belittled or baited Samoa, and the Samoans have smiled and played down the significance of Sunday's World Cup confrontation.
That's how big this game is.
The spicy World Cup history between the teams makes this a must-see match anytime, but Wales is under extra pressure to win at Waikato Stadium to keep its playoff hopes alive after being edged by defending champion South Africa 17-16 last weekend.
Wales is fourth in Pool D behind Samoa, Fiji and the Springboks. Only the top two advance to the quarterfinals.
"We are very aware we must go out and match the performance of last weekend. We all know how important Sunday is,'' Gatland said. "We must win. That's the bottom line. There are no second chances after Sunday.''
Gatland, returning to his Hamilton hometown, showed faith in his side by naming an unchanged XV, a first for the former All Blacks hooker in his four years in charge and a first for Wales in the tournament's history.
Manu Samoa revealed its confidence in that it would have picked the same team, too, which cruised past Namibia 49-12 midweek if the ribs of blindside flanker Taiasina Tuifu'a weren't still feeling tender. But he's in the reserves, and Ofisa Treviranus will start.
Samoa's three-try hero against Namibia, Alesana Tuilagi, looms on the left wing, and he will be marked by Wales' only slightly smaller George North, who has a chance to become the youngest ever tryscorer in the World Cup at 19 if he scores.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge,'' North said. "I've never played against him. He's a strong runner so you have to get him early. But you can't just single out one player because they've got a team of good players.''
The Welsh will field some Polynesian power of their own in Tongan-born No. 8 Toby Faletau, who scored a try in his World Cup debut against South Africa.
"For a 20-year-old, he is just unbelievably calm. Nothing seems to faze him,'' said impressive new captain Sam Warburton. "He's a very popular and relaxed guy in the changing room.''
Warburton said this week the squad hasn't considered the history of this matchup, but that is hard to believe. Samoa beat Wales in the 1991 and 1999 World Cups, both times in Cardiff to make it even more embarrassing, and they're among the tournament's most memorable matches.
The Samoans haven't been able to hide from the history, either. While they prepared for the World Cup in Samoa last month, all their fans could talk about was Wales and South Africa.
To their credit, the Samoans have brushed off concerns about playing Wales just four days after Namibia. But they only have to look at others in the same position this week to know they can win again.
Scotland backed up from scraping past Romania to beat a disappointingly one-note Georgia, and the United States rebounded from a hearty loss to Ireland with a gritty win over Russia. Besides, Gatland has been known to say that the best way to prepare for a tough game is to play a tough game, and both teams have had that.
Wales flanker Dan Lydiate expects the Samoans to be just as tough as the Springboks.
"I think they'll just be the one-off bigger hits, the ones you see on YouTube,'' Lydiate said. "But we're preparing for that and it's going to be a big encounter for us.''
Wales: James Hook, George North, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams, Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton (captain), Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Adam Jones, Huw Bennett, Paul James. Reserves: Lloyd Burns, Gethin Jenkins, Bradley Davies, Andy Powell, Tavis Knoyle, Scott Williams, Leigh Halfpenny.
Samoa: Paul Williams, Sailosi Tagicakibau, George Pisi, Seilala Mapusua, Alesana Tuilagi, Tusi Pisi, Kahn Fotuali'i; George Stowers, Maurie Fa'asavalu, Ofisa Treviranus, Daniel Leo, Kane Thompson, Anthony Perenise, Mahonri Schwalger (captain), Sakaria Taulafo. Reserves: Ti'i Paulo, Census Johnston, Joe Tekori, Taiasina Tuifu'a, Junior Poluleuligaga, Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu, Tasesa Lavea.