The Wallabies will be looking to finalise their World Cup preparations with a strong performance against 16th ranked Samoa in their final match before heading to Japan. The Aussies will be looking to regain some of the confidence and momentum lost after their crushing 36-0 loss to the All Blacks last month.
However, they will be wary of Manu Samoa, who will be looking to repeat their famous 32-23 boilover win over Australia in 2011 when they head further down the Parramatta Road for the first international at the newly built Bankwest stadium.
The Wallabies got off to a slow start in 2019, losing 35-17 to the Springboks at Ellis Park in a sloppy performance that saw the side waste possession and opportunities. The side would bounce back the following week, with a more convincing performance, defeating the Pumas 20-16 in a game dominated by a committed defensive effort and an impressive scrum.
However, their best performance would be saved for their following game, putting in a clinical performance to dominate the All Blacks 47-26 at Optus Stadium.
Unfortunately, this dream turned into a nightmare, with the All Blacks dominating from the opening whistle the following week, shutting out the Wallabies 36-0 in a disappointing performance with the Bledisloe on the line.
Samoa has had a frustrating start to their 2019 campaign, having mixed results in the Pacific Nations Cup. They would begin the tournament with a 25-17 comeback win over Tonga, with Afa Amosa and Belgium Tuatagaloa crossing the try line in the last ten minutes to secure the win. They would then go on to lose 13-10 to the USA in heartbreaking fashion, with AJ MacGintly nailing a penalty goal on the siren to break Samoan hearts.
This was compounded by a 10-3 loss to Fiji, in which the Samoans controlled possession and territory for the majority of the match, before a try to Vereniki Goneva stole the results for the Fijians. They bounced back with a 36-19 win over a New Zealand heartland XV, with Michael Alaalatoa and Ahsee Tuala scoring doubles.
The Wallabies have made mass changes to the side that got demolished by the All Blacks last month, highlighted by the long-awaited return of David Pocock to openside flanker. Coach Michael Cheika has decided to rest a number of first-choice players, choosing to give opportunities to players who saw limited minutes in the Rugby Championship such as Bernard Foley, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Will Genia.
In further team news, Brumbies star Tom Banks has been picked at fullback despite missing out on the World Cup squad, while the retiring Tatafu Polota-Nau, Luke Jones, Liam Wright, Nick Phipps and debutant Rob Valetini are the non-World Cup players included on the bench.
Samoa has also taken the opportunity to blood fresh players, with Wallabies killer Tusi Pisi selected at fly-half after missing the Pacific Nations Cup. The team will have plenty of familiar faces for Super Rugby fans, with 10 players in the starting XV having played for a New Zealand Super Rugby side. Michael Alaalatoa will also be handed his official test debut for Samoa, with the Australian-born prop denied the opportunity to play against his brother, Allan.
David Pocock v Piula Faasalele
The main talking point from the Wallabies squad was the announcement of David Pocock’s return to rugby. Pocock hasn’t been sighted on the field for nearly six months after being sidelined due to his troublesome calf. He will certainly be tested when he lines up against Perpignan flanker Piula Faasalele. Faasalele is one of the most underrated blindsides in the game, having played an integral part in Toulouse’s Top 14 Championship victory in 2018. Faasalele is also facing his own recovery from injury, having missed their final round clash against Fiji due to a broken wrist.
This matchup will be a huge litmus test for the fitness and skills of Pocock heading into the rigorous World Cup and a strong performance against Faasalele and Samoa will help inspire the Wallabies heading forward.
Tom Banks v Tim Nanai Williams
When the Wallabies squad was announced, the big exclusion for me was Brumbies fullback, Tom Banks. Banks was one of the best for the Brumbies across the Super Rugby season and he didn’t seem to do much wrong in his limited time on the pitch during the Rugby Championship. He will come up against the experienced Tim Nanai Williams, with the Clermont fullback having terrorised Super Rugby teams during his stint at the Chiefs.
This is a big game for the future of Banks as a strong performance can reaffirm to Cheika and the selection panel that he deserves a spot in the Wallabies back three heading forward. As for Nanai-Williams, if Samoa wish to repeat their upset win in 2011, then you’ve got to expect that he needs to play a big game if they are any chance.
Numbers that matter (Thanks to Opta Sports)
39:The last four games between the two teams have seen the Wallabies win by an average of 39 points
32-23: The score-line the last time that the Wallabies played Samoa at Sydney in 2011.
2015: The last time that the Wallabies won in Sydney, having lost their last 6
2014: The last victory for Samoa over a tier-one nation (15-0 v Italy at Apia)
11: The number of tackles missed by Samoa during the Pacific Nations Cup, the best in the whole tournament
212:The total points scored between Australia and Samoa during their last three matches
Whilst the bookmakers have the Wallabies as the overwhelming favourites ($1.03 for those wondering), I think this will be closer than expected. Samoa showed throughout the Pacific Nations Cup that they can control possession and turn the game into a real arm-wrestle against strong opponents in Japan and Fiji. Whilst I expect that the Wallabies will still record a comfortable victory, I think the Samoans will definitely make us work for it.
Match Prediction: Wallabies by 15
Bold Prediction: 3+ tries to Rebels players
Wallabies (15-1): Tom Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt To’omua, Marika Koroibete, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Jack Dempsey, David Pocock (c), Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Adam Coleman, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Jordan Uelese, James Slipper
Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio, Taniela Tupou, Luke Jones, Liam Wright, Rob Valetini, Nick Phipps, James O’Connor
Samoa (15-1): Tim Nanai-Williams, Belgium Tuatagaloa, Alapati Leiua, Reynold Lee-Lo, Ed Fidow, Tusi Pisi, Scott Malolua, Afaesetiti Amosa, Jack Lam (c), TJ Ioane, Kane Leaupepe, Teofilo Paulo, Michael Alaalatoa, Ray Niuia, Jordan Lay
Reserves: Motu Matu’u, Paul Alo-Emile, Logovi’i Mulipola, Josh Tyrell, Seilala Lam, Dwayne Polataivao, AJ Alatimu, Ah See Tuala
Date: Saturday September 7
Venue: Bankwest Stadium
Kick-off: 7:35 pm AEDT (7:35pm local time)
Where to Watch: Fox Sports 6 (Channel 506).