Rugby World Cup 2011
Samoa ready to wrestle Boks
Eliota Sapolu Fuimaono (File)
Auckland - Set-piece, ruck, ruck, another ruck, and maybe a few mauls. Throw in kicks for territory, and it hasn't been a pretty Rugby World Cup from Samoa so far.
The signature spontaneity of Pacific Islands rugby has been cast aside by the Samoans in favour of a safety-first strategy of attrition.
While the more helter-skelter Fijians and Tongans are practically out of contention for the quarter finals with two losses each, Manu Samoa still has a chance.
Grinding down opponents to reach the last eight for the first time in 16 years has almost worked.
The trouble is, to get there they must overcome a team they have never beaten, defending champion South Africa, on Friday at sold-out North Harbour Stadium.
No other team enjoys wrestling and structure more than the Springboks.
It's been hard-wired into their rugby souls for more than a century.
Knowing what's coming from Samoa doesn't make it easier to play against, but it makes it easier for them to plan for.
"For them to give up that free-flowing, sharpshooting, out-of-structure kind of fear they instilled in you, they forfeit some of that to stay in their structure," Springboks coach Peter de Villiers said.
"It will make them more difficult to play because of the structure.
"They'll keep the ball for longer periods. They will be very strong at the breakdown like they normally are. Because they went into structure they forfeit something, but they gain a lot of other things.
"What they gained is exactly what all the other teams at the international level do. It doesn't make it easier, but you can actually sit down and analyse them a bit."
It shouldn't have come down to having to beat the Boks for Samoa. They had an easier route to the quarter-finals two weeks ago through Wales. But management made the inexplicable decision to choose the same team which beat Australia in July for the tournament opener against easy-win Namibia.
That match cost them crucial flyhalf Tusi Pisi and flanker Taiasina Tuifu'a to injuries.
Just four days later, everyone bar the injured pair met the Welsh, who knew they could overcome a halftime deficit because they would have the legs on the islanders in the second half. Wales won 17-10.
Samoa's strategy has also taken a toll on itself. Grinding down opponents is hard work, and without the luxury given to top-tier sides of at least a week's break between matches, the wonder is how much more do the Samoans have in their legs, five days after toiling past Fiji.
Ten of the Samoa squad will be making their fourth start in 17 days: Forwards Mahonri Schwalger, the captain, Sakaria Taulafo, Kane Thompson, Daniel Leo, George Stowers, Maurie Fa'asavalu; and backs Kahn Fotuali'i, Seilala Mapusua, Alesana Tuilagi, and Paul Williams.
"There are lot of guys with sore bodies at the moment," said midfielder Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, who will be playing his fourth match but first start.
"There are a lot of guys playing their fourth game, their fourth 80 minutes. There are a lot of people who are tired at the moment. I don't think (the challenge) is nerves. It is trying to get the energy level back up."
Tuilagi was predicted to be a star at his second World Cup. But his hat-trick of tries against Namibia sent out a red alert to other teams, and since then he has been contained. The Samoans have struggled to move the ball past the centers, as defences have rushed up to give Tuilagi little chance to get up a head of steam.
Meanwhile, the Springboks have won four straight matches for the first time since June 2010, including the desperately needed Tri-Nations win over the All Blacks. Their defense has allowed only two tries in that span, flyhalf Morne Steyn is the tournament's leading goalkicker with an 85 percent success rate (17 of 20), only Bakkies Botha (Achilles tendon) is injured, and they like the way they are peaking for the knockout rounds, which effectively begin on Friday.
The Springboks have also enjoyed relaxing in the resort town of Taupo, beside New Zealand's biggest lake in the central North Island. Among their activities were clay pigeon shooting and deer hunting.