South Africa v Samoa: Five talking points ahead of World Cup clash
Last Updated: 26/09/15 4:48pm
With South Africa's World Cup in the balance, we look at five talking points ahead of their Pool B clash with Samoa.
South Africa's shock loss to Japan has left their World Cup in the balance, with Heyneke Meyer's side now needing to win every game in order to ensure a path to the quarter-finals.
The Springboks and Samoa have faced off in the pool stages of each of the last three World Cups, but arguably none have been as eagerly anticipated as Saturday's clash in Birmingham. We look at five big talking points ahead of the all-important Pool B encounter.
South Africa has a history of criticism surrounding the place of the captain in the team. In 1999, Gary Teichmann was famously axed by then-coach Nick Mallett due to the rise of boy-wonder Bobby Skinstad.
Mallett's viewpoint was that Teichmann was not guaranteed a starting spot in the team and therefore dropped his captain ahead of the World Cup. It was a decision he later admitted regretting.
In 2011, John Smit captained the Boks in an unsuccessful campaign while Bismarck du Plessis, arguably the best hooker in world rugby at the time, was asked to occupy the bench by Pieter de Villiers.
Meyer has the same problem now, with Jean de Villiers a loyal servant of the Springbok system and back in the fold after bravely recovering from a horrific injury, but the centre has clearly lost his pace and spark in the midfield.
Meyer opted to stand by his captain in the wake of the loss to Japan, but admits the selection was not an easy one.
"It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life to make," Meyer said.
"I thought about it long and hard and came to the conclusion that this is a must-win game and who are you going to back?
"I had a long and hard chat with him and I just decided as a coach. I will stand by my decision, that if you go into a fight that you have to win, that your whole career and whole country depends on, I really want to take a guy that has had six knee operations.
"I spoke to the team as well. They back him, they want him."
Age v Experience
Jean de Villiers has a personal tally of international caps that outnumber those of the entire Samoan backline put together, but so does Bryan Habana. The South African backline is awash with experience, and outstrips the opposition many times over in terms of caps won.
The Samoan backs are largely inexperienced on the international stage, with four of their players on less than ten caps apiece. It also means the combinations are fresh, and therefore slightly easier to exploit.
But last week South Africa put out their most experienced side ever and lost to Japan - the difficulty for a coach is knowing when an older player full of experience becomes just an older player.
Habana was at one point one of the most prolific try-scorers in the game, and he still features heavily for Toulon in Europe, but he no longer has the impact on the international stage that he used to.
In 2007, Habana scored four tries against Samoa in the pool stages, will he be able to repeat the feat eight years on?
The return of Thor
Duane Vermeulen will pull on the famous green and gold jersey in Birmingham for the first time this year when his side faces Samoa. Neck surgery sidelined the big No 8 for the last four months, and now he makes a return to the game in a must-win match-up for the Springboks.
There were doubts that Vermeulen would make the World Cup due to the serious nature of his injury, but the Toulon-bound forward was named in Heyneke Meyer's squad, despite playing his last game for him in November last year.
The Springbok coach lauded the commitment of Vermeulen to his country's cause. "I don't want to knock other players," said Meyer. "But if everyone had the mental attitude and the desire to play for South Africa that Duane has, we probably wouldn't lose any games.
"Our plan was actually to let him play 20 minutes and then put him into the next game [against Scotland in Newcastle on October 3] but he insisted that he wanted to play, never mind what the medical staff advised.
"He said 'I'm going to play 80 minutes if that's what it's going to take to win'. The whole team needs that mentality if we are going to go forward. It's great to have him back."
Census and the Beast
The 34-year-old Johnston, who plays for French side Toulouse, announced his international retirement in April this year.
But he was recalled for Samoa's historic Test against New Zealand at Apia Park on July 8 - the All Blacks' first Test match on Samoan soil - and started for the home side.
Johnston was not included in Stephen Betham's squad for the World Cup, but the Samoan was called up to the squad as a late replacement for the injured Logovi'i Mulipola.
Johnston now has the prospect of a wounded South African pack to negotiate, and will scrum down against Beast Mtawarira.
The prop, like all his countrymen, won't shirk the physical challenge, but all eyes will be on him to make sure the technically inferior Samoan side aren't exposed in the set piece.
Dropped De Jager
Lood de Jager made his debut for the Springboks in June last year against a touring Wales side, and since then has made his mark as a world-class international lock.
Only 22-years-old, De Jager confidently took control of the South African lineout calls in the absence of Victor Matfield, and offered more than Matfield in the loose, but Meyer has opted for his old Blue Bulls captain for the game this weekend.
It's a decision that baffled Sky Sports' Thinus Delport, who called for the form pair to be picked in the second row.
"It's an absolute travesty that our best player has not been picked to start against Samoa," said the former Springbok.
"For me, Lood de Jager has been one of the few shining lights in the Springbok team and I can't believe he's not starting. Every time he's on the ball he makes a difference, he hits rucks and brings physicality.
"That's the stand-out non-selection for the Samoa game over which there are question marks. I think Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager should be the starting lock combination."
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez; 1 Tendai Mtawarira, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Victor Matfield, 6 Francois Louw, 7 Schalk Burger, 8 Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Samoa: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Paul Perez, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Mike Stanley, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i; 1 Sakaria Taulafo, 2 Motu Matu'u, 3 Anthony Perenise, 4 Teofilo Paulo, 5 Iosefa Tekori, 6 TJ Ioane, 7 Jack Lam, 8 Ofisa Treviranus (c).
Replacements: 16 Ole Avei, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Census Johnston, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Vavae Tuilagi, 21 Vavao Afemai, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 George Pisi.