Rugby Union: Wales v Samoa
Friday November 16
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
BBC Two Wales 7.30pm
Well, that wasn’t in the script. Seven days ago, Rob Howley’s temporary charges (Warren Gatland returns for the New Zealand game next week) were planning an assault on the top four ranking spots ahead of next month’s World Cup draw. One dismal showing against Argentina – arguably Wales’ worst home performance since defeat to England back in 2003 – later, and holding on to a place in the top eight becomes the priority. And that starts with Samoa’s visit to Cardiff tonight.
The problem for Howley is where to start the healing process. Wales looked rusty and out of sorts across the park against the Pumas, but neither Jamie Roberts (concussion) nor Alun Wyn Jones (shoulder) will be fit for tonight’s game, and captain Sam Warburton’s poor form has provoked previously unthought of criticism from his own fans. Justin Tipuric should add a freshness to the pack, while a possible return to the centres for Jonathan Davies would be well timed. Rhys Priestland continues to misfire at 10, however, with cries for the Ospreys’ Dan Biggar getting louder by the week.
Samoa, meanwhile, come into the game on the back of a 42-12 win over Canada, and will fancy their chances of causing more Welsh heartache. Sevens flyer Robert Lilomaiava is the man to watch after his four-try debut haul last weekend, but Wales will need to nullify the Samoan power and keep livewire fly half Tusi Pisi quiet if they’re to put down a marker ahead of visits from both New Zealand and Australia over the next two weekends.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Argentina take their fine form across the Channel to face a flying France, who battered Australia last weekend, while Scotland will be looking to bounce back from a heavy defeat to New Zealand when they host South Africa at Murrayfield (BBC Two 2.30pm). Wing Tim Visser looked impressive on his Scotland debut, but it’s up front where the Scots need a big performance, because the Springboks blew Ireland away in the second half of their 16-12 win in Dublin last week.
Ireland, eighth in the IRB rankings, are well within Scotland’s sights this autumn – a Scottish win here would have their Celtic cousins looking over their shoulders.