The GUINNESS Series gets underway this evening with a mouth-watering clash between Ireland and seventh-ranked Samoa, as the hosts look to give new head coach Joe Schmidt a winning start to his tenure.
2013 GUINNESS SERIES: Saturday, November 9
IRELAND v SAMOA, Aviva Stadium, 5.45pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC Two Northern Ireland/O2 MatchDay Live)
Team News: Paul O’Connell has been chosen as the new Ireland captain, but vice-captain Jamie Heaslip will lead the team for Joe Schmidt’s first match in charge against Samoa in Saturday’s GUINNESS Series opener.
Leinster loosehead prop Jack McGrath will earn his first senior cap against the powerful Samoans, while Dave Kearney could also make his senior debut for Ireland if introduced off the replacements bench.
There are six 2013 British & Irish Lions in the starting line-up – Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Conor Murray, Heaslip and Rory Best – and a further three Lions tourists, Cian Healy, O’Connell and Sean O’Brien, named among the replacements.
With a hip injury ruling out Jonathan Sexton, Paddy Jackson gets the nod to start in the number 10 jersey and Ian Madigan will provide back-up from the bench.
Backing debutant McGrath to deliver on the international stage, hooker Best said: “It’s a great day for Jack. Having watched his games this season, he deserves his chance.
“He’s a great guy, he’s trained really well and I hope it goes really well for him, because he deserves it and he deserves a good performance.
“I think if you look at the way he’s been playing this season, he gets around the pitch. But from scrummaging with him, he’s a solid lump, he’s like a wee block, and he’ll stick in there and scrummage well for you.
“He’s got a good engine, but the big thing for me is that he’s a very, very honest player – the sort of guy you knock him down, he’ll get up and keep working hard for you, right through the 80 minutes.
“And I think that’s all you can ask, especially your front row forwards, if they’re getting up and working hard for the team I think that’s a massive aspect to have.”
Meanwhile, former Ospreys scrum half Kahn Fotuali’i, who is currently plying his trade with English club Northampton Saints, has been chosen to captain Samoa for Saturday’s encounter.
Injuries have ruled out some of Samoa’s frontline players, including tour captain David Lemi (shoulder) and Gavin Williams who led them during the summer’s Quadrangular tournament in South Africa.
Head coach Stephen Betham has handed the captaincy to Fotuali’i who has good knowledge of the Irish players having spent two years at the Swansea-based Ospreys.
Other notable absentees are Maurie Fa’asavalu, Daniel Leo and Census Johnston, whose place at tighthead prop has gone to Leicester’s Logovi’i Mulipola.
Blindside flanker Ofisa Treviranus, who spent a season with Connacht, is the most capped player in the Samoa starting line-up with 25 appearances. His younger brother Alapati Leiua is set to win his fourth cap on the right wing.
Taranaki’s tough-tackling centre Isaia Tu’ifua is standing by to make his debut, while the majority of the Samoan squad play their club rugby in either the English Premiership or French Top 14 – George Pisi, Johnny Leota, Ti’i Paulo and Iosefa Tekori being some of the most recognisable names.
Of the matchday squad from the 20-10 loss to Ireland in Dublin in November 2010, there are only five survivors in this weekend’s side – George Pisi, Fotuali’i, prop Sakaria Taulafo, Treviranus and Tekori.
There will be a minute’s silence before kick-off on Saturday to honour one of the great figures of Samoan rugby, Papali’itele Peter Fatialofa, who sadly passed away earlier this week aged 54.
Captain and loosehead prop for Samoa at the 1991 Rugby World Cup, Fatialofa, who was affectionately known as ‘Fats’, played 34 times for his country – he made his debut against Ireland at Lansdowne Road in October 1988.
He went on to serve as forwards coach for the Samoa senior squad, and was assistant coach for the Under-20s at the 2011 IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy event.
Up to the time of his death, he was coaching the Samoa Women’s squad in preparation for next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup in France.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster); Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (capt).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Dungannon/Ulster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster), Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster), Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster).
SAMOA: Fa’atoina Autagavaia (Marist St. Joseph’s); Alapati Leiua (Hurricanes), George Pisi (Northampton Saints), Johnny Leota (Sale Sharks), Brando Va’aulu (Tokyo Gas); Tusi Pisi (Suntory Sungoliath/Hurricanes), Kahn Fotuali’i (Northampton Saints) (capt); Sakaria Taulafo (Stade Francais), Wayne Ole Avei (Bordeaux-Begles), Logovi’i Mulipola (Leicester Tigers), Fa’atiga Lemalu (Sanix Blues), Filo Paulo (Cardiff Blues), Ofisa Treviranus (London Irish), Jack Lam (Hurricanes), Taiasina Tu’ifua (Bordeaux-Begles).
Replacements: Ti’i Paulo (Clermont Auvergne), Viliamu Afatia (Agen), James Johnston (Saracens), Iosefa Tekori (Toulouse), Alafoti Fa’osiliva (Bath), Jeremy Su’a (Worcester Warriors), Isaia Tu’ifua (Taranaki), Fautua Otto (Bristol).
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes, Luke Pearce (both England)
Television Match Official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ireland to win: 2/7; Draw: 28/1; Samoa to win: 3/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Les Kiss (Ireland) – “You can look at our bench and say there’s a fair bit of strike power there, but that’s for later in the game. We’ve got to make sure we start the game well and put ourselves in a strong position.
“If we don’t do that then the bench won’t be important and won’t be able to make any impact at all. Samoa are a lethal unit if they get going, so we’ve been making sure our guys have their heads in the right place for this game.
“When you haven’t got the ball against this team, the minute you switch off or decide to take a rest, you’ll be found out in one aspect or another.
“They’ve got some big powerful forwards who can go through the middle, or work around the edges of the ruck.
“Tusi Pisi is a real handful at 10 if you give him space to work, and Johnny Leota and (George) Pisi have built a great combination in midfield there.
“Their running lines and the way they can carry and damage a defensive line are things we need to be aware of, and they have a lot of speed.
“But they don’t mind kicking the ball either, in varying situations, to challenge your back field. It really is a challenge across the park, so defensively we’ve got to have our hats on.”
Stephen Betham (Samoa) – “At the moment, we are building towards the 2015 World Cup and we have decided that, in the first two years, we would broaden our base and then after that we’ll know our 50 or 60 players that we’ll concentrate on and that will be the group we will work with going towards the World Cup.
“At the moment, we are giving everyone a fair run now. The door is not closed, this is the end of our two-year period, so we’re giving others a chance.
“We are here to compete, we will try to give the Irish a good game. It won’t be easy. We are confident in our preparation and we’ll wait and see what happens on the day.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2001: Autumn Test: Ireland 35 Samoa 8, Lansdowne Road
2003: Summer Tour: Samoa 14 Ireland 40, Apia
2010: Autumn Test: Ireland 20 Samoa 10, Aviva Stadium