After rusty performances last weekend, both Samoa and Italy will be out to prove a point when they do battle in Apia today.
Tonga shocked Samoa in Apia, when they claimed a late 18-18 draw, and Italy’s three-Test tour got off to a poor start when they suffered a 25-14 defeat to Fiji in Suva.
Apart from that draw against Tonga, Samoa – albeit without several of their overseas-based players – also suffered a 33-14 defeat to Japan in Tokyo last month.
They also faced Tonga with several first-choice players on the bench but have recalled world class Northampton Saints duo Kahn Fotuali’i and George Pisi to their back-line while London Irish bruiser Ofisa Treviranus Saracens prop James Johnston and Clermont hooker Ti’i Paulo also return to the run-on side to bolster the pack.
Fotuali’i’s combination with fly-half Tusi Pisi will be crucial for the home side to be victorious. After last weekend’s effort against Tonga, Pisi knows a much improved performance is expected from him if Samoa want to secure victory.
Samoa head into this clash as favourites. Apart from playing at home, they have been victorious in four of the five previous Tests that they have faced Italy. This includes a 39-10 victory the last time these sides met in a four nation tournament – along with South Africa and Scotland – in Nelspruit last year.
The Azzurri will be like a wounded animal after their defeat to Fiji and Samoa’s forwards coach Tom Coventry is wary of the threat which Jacques Brunel’s charges pose.
Coventry expects Samoa to deliver a much improved showing but knows that Italy are in a similar situation to the islanders and will also be desperate to return to the victory trail.
“These boys are in their off-seasons – that brings a different challenge too to the coaching staff – but being here a week and training together obviously the combinations are going to improve,” he told the Samoa Observer.
“Both teams will be better for the game but I know the public in Samoa will be looking for a better performance from us that’s for sure.”
Italy boss Jacques Brunel knows his side are under pressure to bounce back after their loss to Fiji. That defeat means they are yet to win a game in 2014 and they are currently on a seven-match losing streak.
They are on this tour minus their two most experienced players in regular skipper and number eight Sergio Parisse, who is injured, and tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni, who is being rested.
However, other seasoned campaigners like captain Quintin Geldenhuys, veteran flanker Mauro Bergamasco and full-back Luke McLean will be expected to lead the charge against Samoa.
With the loss to Fiji behind them and next weekend’s clash against Japan looming on the horizon, Brunel believes his side’s biggest challenge of their tour will be this weekend.
“Samoa is the toughest opponent among those we are going to face in this international window,” he said on the Italian Rugby Union’s official website.
“It ‘s true that they lost against Japan and struggled against Tonga in recent weeks, but I think the team that we will face Saturday will be different.
“Last year they beat us, so we know that everything will be less than a walk in the park. But our ambition, as always, must be to challenge opponents of great value.”
The warm climate proved a major obstacle when Italy lost to Fiji in Suva last weekend and there will be similar conditions in Apia, something which Brunel expects his side to adapt to.
“The heat will definitely be a key factor in the match, as well as being at the end of the season,” he added.
“In Suva – Brunel said – we had a glimpse of the differences in climate, here I think the weather will be even hotter and more humid, and the kick-off to the 14 day lead to a still more intense.
“But are aspects that are part of the game.”
Players to watch:
For Italy: Fly-half Tommaso Allan gets his chance after starting on the bench against Fiji last weekend. Allan is a superb playmaker who will be expected to unlock Samoa’s defence and bring his team-mates into play. But while the 21-year-old’s attacking game has impressed, his goal-kicking in big Tests has been below par and this is a facet of his game which must be at its best if the Azzurri want to be victorious.
For Samoa: Blindside flanker Ofisa Treviranus is a strong ball-carrier who will be expected to put his side on the front-foot with some devastating runs. A former Sevens international, Treviranus combines his skills from the shortened version of the game with great physicality which means the Italians will battle to keep him in check if he builds up a head of steam.
Head-to-head: Two top-class front rows having a crack at each other in the scrums should play a huge role in deciding this game’s outcome. Italy are renowned for their scrummaging and the selection of the Trevisio front row of Lorenzo Cittadini, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Alberto De Marchi could be an indication that they are planning to use the set-piece as an attacking launchpad. They face formidable opposition in Samoa’s front three of James Johnston, Ti’i Paulo, Logovi’i Mulipola, who, like their counterparts, seldom give an inch in the scrums.
2013: Samoa won 39-10, Nelspruit
2009: Italy won 24-6, Ascoli Piceno
2001: Samoa won 17-9, L’Aquila
2000: Samoa won 43-24, Apia
1995: Samoa won 42-18, East London
Prediction: Both sides will be desperate as they were unable to wrack up a win last weekend. Samoa seldom play poorly in front of their home supporters in successive matches and will win by seven points!
Samoa: 15 Faatoina Autagavaia, 14 Fautua Otto, 13 George Pisi, 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 David Lemi (capt), 10 Tusiata Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Ofisa Treviranus, 5 Daniel Leo, 4 Faatiga Lemalu, 3 James Johnston, 2 Ti’i Paulo, 1 Logovi’i Mulipola.
Replacements: 16 Wayne Ole Avei, 17 Census Johnston, 18 Sakaria Taulafo, 19 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 20 Piula Fa’asalele, 21 Patrick Fa’apale, 22 Vavao Afemai, 23 Johnny Leota.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Andrea Masi, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Paul Derbyshire, 5 George Fabio, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (c), 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto de Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Josh Furno, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Tommaso Iannone.
Date: Saturday, June 14
Kick-off: 14:00 local (02:00 BST, 01:00 GMT)
Venue: Apia Park, Apia
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)