Preview: Australia v Samoa
WORLD CUP WARM-UP: Australia on Saturday head into their final game before leaving for Japan.
They will field a makeshift team, as key players are kept in cotton wool and others are given a last chance to stake their claim to be in the World Cup starting XV.
The two-time World Cup winners – runners-up in 2015 – take on a Samoan side ranked just 16 and who only just scraped into this month’s tournament after a poor qualification campaign, eventually overcoming minnows Germany in a two-leg play-off.
But they arrived in Sydney on the back of wins over Tonga and a New Zealand Heartland XV, and with the knowledge that they have stunned the Wallabies in the city before – winning 32-23 eight years ago in one of their greatest ever triumphs.
Only flyhalf Tusi Pisi remains of that side, but Australia have three survivors in scrum-half Will Genia, prop Sekope Kepu and utility Adam Ashley-Cooper.
All four will start with Ashley-Cooper keen to focus on the future.
“The guys that were involved in ’11 would reflect back on that for sure, you do with losses over your career,” he said.
“But it’s eight years later now, a long time ago, and all we’re focused on is basically putting into practice what we’ve been doing over the past two weeks.”
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The last 10 days have been spent in New Caledonia working on fixing the problems that led to a heavy 36-0 defeat to the All Blacks in Auckland last month, with the New Zealand pack outmuscling their arch-rivals.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is expecting a fast and physical game from the Samoans and opted not to play the likes of Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale, Samu Kerevi, Allan Alaalatoa, Christian Lealiifano or Izack Rodda so close to the World Cup.
Instead, his team includes six players who are not even going to Japan, along with others on the fringes, like Bernard Foley and Jack Dempsey, who have been handed a final crack at impressing enough to be in the World Cup starting line-up.
Cheika said he had a good idea of what the team would be for Australia’s World Cup opener against Fiji on September 21, but the Samoa Test could influence his thinking.
Without naming anyone, he said it was an opportunity for some to “put their hand up to be selected”, while the six not going to Japan, like Tom Banks, Luke Jones and Liam Wright, are seen as the future.
“There’s 31 going but there’s a group who will be staying behind on the ready. They need to be in sync with what we’re doing as well,” he said.
With Hooper rested, David Pocock will make his long-awaited return from injury, captaining the side in what will be his last Test on home soil after announcing Friday he will retire from the international game after the World Cup.
“We know that without a good team performance, it won’t be as special,” he said.
Genia, Kepu and Tatafu Polota-Nau will also be playing their last Wallabies game on home soil.
Players to watch
For Australia: David Pocock makes his return from injury a day after he announced he will retire from the game after the World Cup – a host of Wallabies to do so. Test centurions Adam Ashley-Cooper, Will Genia and Sekope Kepu are also all moving on. Both Genia and Kepu have confirmed their retirement from Test rugby at the end of 2019, ensuring Saturday’s clash is their final appearance on home soil. Reserve hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau will join the pair in the hanging up his boots for Australia, with the 14-year Test veteran also confirming his retirement from International Rugby following the tournament in Japan.
For Samoa: Tusi Pisi orchestrated one of Australia’s most grim Test defeats and will feature at flyhalf on Saturday. The 37-year-old Pisi is the only Manu Samoa survivor from the team who stunned the Wallabies 32-23 in 2011. There are five past or present Hurricanes, including captain Jack Lam and the accomplished midfield pairing of Alapati Leiua and Rey Lee-Lo.
Head to head
The most intriguing face-off is at flyhalf – Bernard Foley (Australia) versus Tusi Pisi (Samoa). The two captains also go head-to-head – openside flanks David Pocock (Australia) versus Jack Lam (Samoa).
2011: Samoa won 32-23, Sydney
2005: Australia won 74-7, Sydney
1998: Australia won 25-13, Brisbane
1994: Australia won 73-3, Sydney
1991: Australia won 9-3, Pontypool (World Cup pool match)
Prediction: If you fancy a Samoan upset, you will get good odds from the bookmakers. However, the wise decision is to back Australia to win by 20 points.
Wallabies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt To’omua, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 David Pocock (captain), 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Luke Jones, 20 Liam Wright, 21 Rob Valetini, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 James O’Connor
Samoa: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Belgium Tuatagaloa, 13 Alapati Leiua, 12 Reynold Lee-Lo, 11 Ed Fidow, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Scott Malolua, 8 Afaesetiti Amosa, 7 Jack Lam (captain), 6 Thomas Ioane, 5 Kane Leaupepe, 4 Teofilo Paulo, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Ray Niuia, 1 Jordan Lay.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Logovi’i Mulipola, 19 Josh Tyrell, 20 Seilala Lam, 21 Dwayne Polataivao, 22 AJ Alatimu, 23 Ah See Tuala.
Date: Saturday, September 7.
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, New South Wales
Kick-off: 19.30 (09.30 GMT, 22.30 Samoa time)
Expected weather: Mostly sunny; breezy and cooler. High of 18°C, low of 9°C
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)