The pressure is truly on now for stand in head coach Rob Howley as Wales look to get themselves back to winning ways against an inform Samoa whilst staring in the face of a possible fifth successive defeat.
It was not so much the loss against Argentina but the nature of it that really set alarm bells ringing. With such a dispirited display, Welsh fans will be on tenterhooks to see if in just six days this current squad of players are able to turn it around.
Injuries to Alun Wyn Jones and Josh Turnbull sees them drop out of the pack and squad completely, with Blues’ Bradley Davies starting to partner up with fellow lock Ian Evans. The back row has more than just the enforced change, with the talented and inform Tipuric taking the seven shirt and Ryan Jones slotting in at six. With Faletau, one of the few players to come out of last weekend’s game with any credit, finishing off the backrow, it has a nice and balanced look to it. It is full of form players and they will be hoping they get the upper hand over physical Samoa at the breakdown.
With the introduction of Tipuric, Warburton drops to the bench with Ryan Jones taking over the captaincy, and with it being his 29th test start as captain, he will now become the most capped Welsh captain of all time.
There are other changes in the Welsh team with a new half back pairing of Phillips and Biggar, and the centre sees a slight change with the more creative Beck linking up with the Roberts who has overcome concussion quicker than expected.
On paper this looks a nicely balanced side, although the introduction of Beck sees a slight weakness in the midfield that Samoa will look to counter in the forms of Pisi and Williams
The changes will mean nothing to Wales however if they can’t get their forwards working. Hibbard starts in place of the injured Rees, and with James getting the nod over Jenkins in the front row they should have a strong scrimmaging plat form to work from. If the team performs as it did against Argentina however, then Samoa will take full advantage.
Samoa are a hugely physical team and if they get manage to work themselves into a position of a level playing field they have the danger men in Autagavaia and Lemi to really trouble Wales. With scrum half Kahn Fotuali’i, a regular at the Ospreys, starting and knowing many of the Wales team so well, it will be interesting to see what tactics he brings to the field.
It is often bandied about in rugby, but this truly is a must win game. Not just for team confidence going into games against the exceptional New Zealand and Australia, but also for ranking points for the next rugby world cup. The Welsh game plan is beginning to look dated, and if they fail yet again to implement it, then not just Howley, but the entire Welsh coaching team will really need to earn their places and work out just how to get Wales as a team, firing again.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Ashley Beck (Ospreys), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), George North (Scarlets); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Paul James (Bath), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Ryan Jones (capt), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Scott Andrews (Cardiff Blues), Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets).
Samoa: F Autagavaia (Northland); P Perez (Eastern Province), G Pisi (Northampton), P Williams (Stade Francais), D Lemi (Worcester, captain); T Pisi (Suntory), K Fotuali’i (Ospreys); S Taulafo (Wasps), O Avei (Bordeaux-Begles), C Johnston (Toulouse), D Leo (Perpignan), T Paulo (North Harbour), O Treviranus (London Irish), M Fa’asavalu (Harlequins), T Tuifua (Newcastle).
Replacements: T Paulo (Clermont Auvergne), V Afatia (Agen), J Johnston (Harlequins), F Lemalu (Mont de Marsan), T Fomai (Hawke’s Bay), J Su’a (Tasman), J Leota (Sale), R Lilomaiava (Laulii).