Samoa Observer

APIA, Samoa (Aug. 29, 2011) - Manu Samoa means business. That’s the only conclusion judging from coach Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua’s starting team for this afternoon’s friendly game against Super 15 franchise Western Force. From number one to 15, this is the A team. With the exception of maybe Sailosi Tagicakibau and a couple of others, this is the team that will front up for most of the World Cup games – bar Namibia maybe.

These are the players who will battle Wales, confront Fiji and take on the might of the Springboks when rugby’s showpiece kicks off in New Zealand, next month.

Don’t be fooled by the so-called announcement to be made tonight after the match, coach Fuimaono has already shown his hand. Besides, the chance for any new player to force his way into the World Cup team on the strength of today’s performance is remote, if not nil.

Fuimaono and his assistants are much better than that. They’ve had a couple of years to find the best team. They’ve scoured the world for the best players and they’re not going to wait one more game.

When the President’s XV run on to a sold out Apia Park today; that’s your team.

The selection is hardly surprising. Since the tour of the Northern Hemisphere last year, the coaching staff has stuck with players who have brought home the best results. With the exception of Maurie Fa’asavalu who has forced his way back in – and deservedly so – and Tusiata Pisi, the rest of the squad have played together for the best part of the last two years.

The front three of Sakaria Taulafo, captain Mahonri Schwalger and Anthony Perenise are a world-class combination. They’ve performed consistently against top-notch opponents and will no doubt hold their ground against their foes.

The locking combination of twin towers Daniel Leo and Kane Thompson are no strangers to the international arena. They are mobile men who will complement the strength of Taiasina Tuifua, Fa’asavalu and George Stowers to complete a significantly powerful forward pack.

There is no question about the form of halfback Kahn Fotuali’i. From what we’ve seen, he’s amongst the best in the world. The All Blacks is right to rue not picking him earlier.

The question is whether he would be able to link with his first five, Tusi Pisi. They haven’t played a lot of games together and their opponents know that. Manu Samoa needs the Fotuali’i/Pisi combination to work if they are to unleash the backline.

The midfield combination of Seilala Mapusua and George Pisi has matured over the years. Wingers Alesana Tuilagi and David Lemi have plenty of experience between them. Tuilagi has the raw power and Lemi provides the speed.

Paul Williams was always going to win the battle for the fullback given his experience. He’s a big man under the high ball who is also a very capable goal kicker.

The bench features plenty of talent. Ti’i Paulo and Census Johnston provide excellent back up for the scrum.

Joe Tekori is always a menacing presence for any opponent. Ofisa Trevaranius brings the speed of a winger to the forward pack. His running game provides plenty of attacking options around tired legs in the later stages of the game.

So what can we expect today?

This is the Manu Samoa’s last serious hit-out before the World Cup. It is the last chance to examine their technical, physical and mental skills.

The win last week was good. But there is something special about today’s game.

We know a defeat will not be good going into the World Cup. It will dampen the team’s confidence and allows their opponents a head start. So performance and victory are the targets today as the Manu Samoa sets out to complete the demolition of the Western Force. But that’s not going to be easy. We know the Force didn’t come all this way to lose both games.

This week, the Force has upped the grit with Coach Richard Graham making a number of changes to his run-on side with five trial players given a starting chance as they press their claims for a contract in 2012. "Samoa has picked a test strength side," said Graham.

"We are paying them respect through our preparations and are looking forward to building on the performance from last weekend."

In other words, the Force is gunning for nothing less than a win.

Which is why today is a huge test for Manu Samoa. The pressure is on especially as they look to put in one last winning performance as a thank you note to their loyal fans who have stuck by them and given generously to send them to the World Cup.

A good win over the Force will send this country into rugby heaven, setting the stage for what’s to come when the much-anticipated Rugby World Cup kicks off.

Go the Manu!

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