South Africa, Samoa expect bruising final
South Africa, Samoa expect bruising final
Jun. 21, 2013
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa and Samoa are preparing for another round of bruises when they meet in the final of the four-nation tournament on Saturday. Scotland and Italy end their seasons on the same day in a rare meeting of Six Nations teams on the South African highveld.
The final matches at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria are split along hemisphere lines, giving Samoa the chance of a meaningful win over the Springboks ahead of their now-regular meeting at the World Cup. They have met in the pool stages at the last three World Cups and are set to face off again in England in 2015.
Scotland has given nine players test debuts in two games on tour so far and is winless in the mini tournament and, like Italy, striving to finish the season victorious.
Samoa's' improvement under former sevens coach Stephen Betham has been the lasting impression over the last few weeks.
The islanders followed up a first test win over Scotland in Durban with a 39-10 thumping of Italy last weekend in Nelspruit, combining their renowned hard-hitting physical presence in the tackles and breakdowns with swift attacking from broken play. But as well as all the runaway tries, Samoa has found consistency in the set-piece that has often been its weakness.
The Springboks at Loftus Versfeld, one of their fortresses, will be an acid test for the Samoans, who rate their technical work in the scrums and lineouts as significant.
"A big part of our successes recently and at the World Cup has been our set-pieces," Samoa captain Paul Williams said. "We back ourselves. We've got big powerful boys and we think we can scrum as well."
While Samoa's progress is undoubted, South Africa's development under coach Heyneke Meyer is less certain.
Into his second season as coach of the No. 2-ranked side to New Zealand, Meyer has reshaped his backline into a speedy unit that seeks to score tries.
Up front, their traditional strength, the Springboks have been surprisingly less convincing, struggling in the rucks for 50 minutes against an understrength Scotland last weekend before coming from behind to win 30-17.
Meyer and captain Jean de Villiers said the hard-fought victory was proof of the Springboks' status as a maturing unit capable of winning when things aren't going according to plan.
The Scotland game showed "we have learnt from the lessons of last year," veteran center De Villiers said.
Ahead of the Rugby Championship and tests against top-ranked New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, South Africa has little room for any more errors and anything other than maintaining its 7-0 winning record against Samoa will be seen as a major setback to Meyer's World Cup planning.
South Africa-Samoa clashes are often intensely physical, a trend likely to continue with Samoa viewing the game as a possible major landmark.
"It'll be great to have another chance to throw everything we've got at South Africa, a great side at home, but challenges are what we are here for," Samoa skipper Williams said.
Heading into Scotland's 11th and final test of the season, interim coach Scott Johnson said the South African tour was about uncovering new players capable of forming the basis of a World Cup challenge in two years. Johnson said the Scots had been successful there, despite consecutive losses in South Africa.
"We've found a couple of diamonds in the rough," Johnson said, picking out debutant lock Tim Swinson and young center pairing Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar as success stories against the Springboks last weekend.
Off its best ever Six Nations campaign, Italy has lost much of that momentum in South Africa. Possibly feeling the effects of a long season, like the injury-depleted Scots, Italy has a final chance to prove its breakthrough wins over Ireland and France this year do indicate that 2013 was significant for the one-time Six Nations strugglers.
"We know this is the last week of the season for all the players," captain Sergio Parisse said, "so we know Scotland is probably the team we know better than Samoa and South Africa. We play every year in the Six Nations against them, so we are going to try and finish performing at the same level as we did in the last Six Nations."
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