KUMAGAYA, 23 Sep – A preview of the Pool A match between Samoa and Russia, which kicks off at 19:15 on Tuesday at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium.
The Big Picture
Facing a stubborn Russian side at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium on Tuesday night, Samoa start the chase for a first Rugby World Cup quarter-final appearance since 1995.
"It's a huge opportunity for us," said New Zealander Steve Jackson, Samoa's coach. "What is a better stage to put Samoan rugby back on the map than at a Rugby World Cup?
"We are here to make our own legacy. We want people to remember the Samoan team at this Rugby World Cup as we have done in 1991 and 1995 with those teams that have reached the quarter-final and done extremely well."
Tuesday night’s match will be the first between Samoa and Russia, who shocked Japan with the fastest RWC opening-match try in the fifth minute of their first Pool A match on Friday. The host nation came back to win 30-10, but Jackson was impressed by the strong Russian start.
"I think they've got a good kicking game," Jackson said. "They've got a big pack but they don't rely on that, they rely on their set pieces that they carry hard, and they play with passion. This is not just a rugby team, this is their country and we are just the same, we play with passion and it'll be an exciting match."
Russia, ranked 20th in the world, hope to bring back their kicking game against Samoa, who are four places higher in the rankings.
Very special to play against @LegOfLam and swap jerseys after the game. We played 6 & 7 for Aus Schools together. Thanks for the game and all the best to you and the team at @rugbyworldcupjp— David Pocock (@pocockdavid) September 9, 2019
📷: Stu Walmsley#rwc2019 #japan2019 pic.twitter.com/xkxWg6Jk13
"The game will be tougher than against Japan," said Kirill Golosnitskiy, who scored Russia's record-breaking and only try in the opener.
"We should stick to the same tactics, play a more kicking game and expect errors from opponents."
The Bears' Welsh coach Lyn Jones has selected the same starting XV as in the opening match. Ten of the players who started as Samoa lost 34-15 to Australia in their last match, feature again. Dwayne Polataivao was on the bench then but earned his spot as scrum-half after he came on to score two tries in the second half against the Wallabies. Since his Manu Samoa debut in 2016, however, Polataivao has never been on a winning side outside the country’s capital of Apia.
Eight of Samoa's starters are making their World Cup debuts, including prop Mike Alaalatoa who only has one previous cap to his name, and Chris Vui, who has taken over as match-day captain because of injury to Jack Lam.
"A lot of players in this team are good leaders but it is obviously a huge honour for me to be captain in our first game," said Vui.
"I got a photo sent to me two days ago, when the World Cup started, of me at the World Cup in 2011. I wasn't playing rugby at all and I was just hanging out with my cousin. It was in New Zealand but I wasn't even thinking about rugby. Now I'm at the World Cup and it's a big honour."
At the same time, Samoa's most experienced player, Tusi Pisi, above, starts his third World Cup campaign. At 37 years and 268 days the fly-half surpasses Peter Fatialofa (36 years 45 days) as the oldest Samoa player at a World Cup. He is also 10 points from overtaking Silao Laega as the Pacific Island nation's leading RWC points scorer.
Both teams will be hoping to improve their recent World Cup results. Samoa have lost their past seven encounters against European teams and Russia have been beaten in all their five matches at the RWC.
Form guide (most recent matches first)
No previous meetings.
In the spotlight
In their last warm-up match against Australia, a 34-15 defeat, Samoa had problems with the lineouts. Having flanker Chris Vui back as captain directing the lineout should add more stability against Russia.
Samoa's usual captain Jack Lam was not available for selection because of an injury.
"I don't want to delve into the injury or what's wrong with him but there was a possibility that he could have been available," coach Jackson said. "But the coaching staff and I decided that we'd give him an extra few days."
Another former captain, back row Piula Faasalele who broke his arm on 3 August, has also been given more time to recover.
On Sunday, Jackson announced the selection of full-back Ah See Tuala. However, after the captain’s run on Monday, Jackson said that Tuala had to withdraw from the team, replaced by Henry Taefu, who would play 12, moving Alapati Leiua to Tuala’s wing and Rey Lee-Lo to Leiua’s No.13.
Russia head coach Jones said there were no serious injuries against Japan, expressing concern only about loose-head prop Valery Morozov, who plays a crucial role in the Bears’ front row.
Morozov has twisted an ankle and his health status is still to be assessed before Tuesday's game.
Stats & Trivia
Samoa full back Tim Nanai-Williams will be the second member of his family to play at the 2019 RWC after cousin Sonny Bill Williams appeared off the bench for All Blacks against South Africa on Saturday night. Earlier that day, Samoa prop Mike Alaalatoa had watched his brother Allan start for Australia against Fiji.
"A four-day break before the match is rather short but we knew about that before coming here, so we were mentally ready for that. After each of the games we have a recovery plan. Emotions will let us forget any pain, and we'll be ready." – Russia back row Vitaly Zhivatov (RUS) on Russia's two matches in four days.
"It's just a lot of guys that are hungry to learn, and our team culture is really tight at the moment. There were a lot of big names in the last World Cup and in a way, in this World Cup we are quite the underdogs with not that many big names, so that has drawn us together and made us work harder." – Samoa lock Filo Paulo on the difference between Manu Samoa at RWC 2015 and RWC 2019.