Stage set for Manu's do-or-die clash
TOYOTA, JAPAN - The Manu Samoa must get their World Cup back on track in Saturday's do-or-die clash with the host nation Japan and the game's stadium befits the sense of occasion.
The players got their first glimpse of Toyota Stadium on Friday during their captain’s run, before they play the tournament hosts there on Saturday night local time.
Manu blindside flanker, Chris Vui, said there was a significant buzz walking onto the ground:
“Seeing how high the seats go, and it’s quite close to you as well," he said.
The arena seats 45,000 and Vui said some of the players in the squad have never played in front of a crowd of such a side.
“They’re looking forward to it; I’m looking forward to it; and what better team to play against than Japan,” he said.
Reserve tight head prop, Paul Alo-Emile, said they know exactly what is coming tomorrow:
“It’s gonna be a big crowd; it’s gonna be a loud crowd," he said.
“There’s not much we can do to control that, all we can do is control our own actions, what we can do on the field.”
The 27-year-old prop said the field looks perfect for scrummaging.
“We’ll try use that to our advantage as much as we can,” he said.
“Japan obviously have a very solid scrum as well, so we’ve been doing our best to watch their video, their clips, we want to be as best prepared as we can.”
Alo-Emile said succeeding at scrum-time comes down to a collective effort from all the front rowers in the squad, and the forwards group as a whole.
“It doesn’t matter whether we’re starting, whether we’re on the bench, we still play a really important role,” he said.
“Even coming off the bench we still take pride in that, we’re responsible for finishing the game.”
Alo-Emile, hooker Ray Niuia and new face James Lay are the three front rowers on the bench, with Lay’s brother Jordan and Seilala Lam coming into the starting lineup.
Just behind them in the locks, Piula Fa’asalele gets his first start for Samoa since August having returned from a broken arm against Scotland, while Ah See Tuala returns to the wing having not played at the World Cup with a calf tear.
Manu assistant coach, Tuifaasisina Alistair Rogers said the short turnaround between matches certainly contributed to the six changes made to the starting XV.
“We felt that those boys were back from injury, and they were fresh and ready to go.”
Tuifaasisina said because of their time playing domestically in Japan, Tusi Pisi and Tim Nanai-Williams are familiar with the Brave Blossoms and some of their players.
“And we know as a team the threats Japan pose,” he said.
“They’ve got a good tight five, the back row is strong, good backs.
“We certainly are aware of what’s coming, so it’s really about our game and getting ourselves prepared best we can for that challenge.”
Vui said people view Samoa as a very physical side, and that’s something they will definitely bring to the game.
“But we know that Japan’s gonna match that intensity and we’ve gotta lift it even more,” he said.
“We know they’re a really fit squad, and when you add those together it makes a really dangerous squad.”
The 26-year-old said the Manu are hugely motivated to get past Japan and make the quarterfinals.
“After that Scotland game, we still have belief in what we’re trying to do,” he said.
“I’m sure that Japan’s gonna come strong tomorrow, but we’ve gotta stick to what we’ve been building over these last few years.”