By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
The best way to describe Wales’ performance against Argentina is flat. There was no energy, no spark and certainly none of the pizzazz that is now expected from the men in red.
Rob Howley has rung the changes for Friday night’s game – changes that I expect were predominantly planned before the poor show against the Pumas – but will the new faces be able to liven up Wales’ performance and get a much-needed ‘W’ against Samoa?
Intense – not tense
Wales need to play with the same intensity, focus and ambition that they bring to training. Against Argentina they only started putting phases together in the final five minutes so they must play from the first whistle.
Stand off Samoa and Wales will pay a heavy price. The islanders will be punching holes across the field with their powerful ball-carriers and they have natural footballers with the footwork and sleight of hand to create try-scoring opportunities. Allow Samoa to play and it will be another Friday night fright for Wales.
Samoa’s physicality is their biggest strength and they have some of the hardest tacklers in the world game. They can also use this power with ball in hand and will be looking to break the gain-line then put in smart offloads while the Wales defence is stretched. This is where Maurie Fa’asavalu and Ofisa Treviranus come into their own.
Wales couldn’t make any line breaks on Saturday so will be hoping Jamie Roberts can stay on the pitch longer than he managed against Argentina and provide the focal point for their attacking game.
The return of Ryan Jones – to captain his country for a record 29th time – relieves the pressure on Toby Faletau in terms of back-row ball-carriers. If they can both make yards and give Wales front-foot ball, they should present more of a threat than last time out.
Game of chance
This match presents Samoa with a great opportunity to prove, like Argentina before them, that they need an improved international schedule. The Pumas’ performance at the 2007 World Cup gave the IRB little choice but to find them a place in elite competition. If Samoa can beat Wales in Cardiff, it will help push their case for more Test matches against the world’s top sides.
A couple of Wales players also have points to prove. Mike Phillips will want to show that he’s first choice at nine having been dropped to the bench last weekend, while Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar have been given starts in the No 7 and No 10 shirts that fans have long clamoured for.
If Tipuric can win a few turnovers and bring his linking game to the fore, he will give Howley a real selection dilemma for the New Zealand game. Perhaps the coach will even bring on Sam Warburton in the second half to see how he and Tipuric work together.
Prediction: Samoa will be fired up but Wales often play at their best when their backs are to the wall and they’re under pressure. It will be tight – Wales by five.
WALES v SAMOA, Friday 16 November, 7.30pm, Millennium Stadium, Live on BBC Wales
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Ashley Beck, Jamie Roberts, George North; Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Richard Hibbard, Aaron Jarvis, Bradley Davies, Ian Evans, Ryan Jones (capt), Justin Tipuric, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins, Scott Andrews, Luke Charteris, Sam Warburton, Tavis Knoyle, Rhys Priestland, Scott Williams.
SAMOA: Fa’atoina Autagavaia; Paul Perez, George Pisi, Paul Williams, David Lemi (capt); Tusiata Pisi, Kahn Fotuali’i; Sakaria Taulafo, Wayne Ole Avei, Census Johnston, Daniel Leo, Teofilo Paulo, Ofisa Treviranus, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Taiasina Tuifu’a.
Replacements: Ti’i Paulo, Viliamu Afatia, James Johnston, Joe Tekori, Tivaini Foma’i, Jeremy Su’a, Johnny Leota, Robert Lilomaiava.
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France).