Ex-Wallaby Leali’ifano Samoa's flyhalf against Chile in Rugby World Cup opener

BORDEAUX, France (AP) — Former Australia international Christian Leali’ifano will start at flyhalf for Samoa when it opens its Rugby World Cup campaign with a first meeting against Chile on Saturday.

Leali’ifano was Australia's top point-scorer at the tournament four years ago. He qualifies for Samoa on ancestry grounds and switched last year thanks to the eligibility law changes.

Former New Zealand flyhalf Lima Sopoaga was in the reserves, swapping their roles from Samoa's narrow 17-13 loss to Ireland in Bayonne three weeks ago.

“Having two high-quality playmakers, that’s unheard of for us, so we feel very lucky and blessed,” Samoa coach Seilala Mapusua said.

“Whether it’s Christian starting with Lima coming on or the other way around, I know we’ll have the same quality for 80 minutes and that’s an exciting thing for me. I expect them to control the game and manage our team."

Samoa was close to the side which nearly toppled Ireland. Moana Pasifika wing Danny Toala has also displaced Ed Fidow, and tighthead prop Michael Ala'alatoa has come off the bench to swap places with Paul Alo-Emile. Sopoaga, Fidow and Alo-Emile were in the reserves.

Samoa has stayed with former Wallaby Duncan Paia’aua at fullback. He played all of last season for Toulon in midfield, though he was their fullback for some of 2021. Paia'aua is the only player to have played every minute for Samoa this season and scored tries in the last two tests against Ireland and Tonga.

“It's not my natural position, but I have played a couple of games there in my professional career,” Paia'aua said.

“I love the physical part of it, I love getting more time with the ball, I can choose where I run. Covering the back field and stuff, I've been lucky to have time the past few weeks to learn where to be on the field. That's the stuff I've got to work on.”

Samoa gets underway in Pool D after everyone else has played, including Chile, which lost to Japan 42-12 last weekend.

“There's been a lot of managing the energy levels and making sure we don't over-stimulate ourselves before the weekend,” Mapusua said. “The message to the boys has been giving Chile the respect they deserve and making sure we do our people proud.”

Los Condores won fans over with their enthusiasm and boldness but two yellow cards in the first half allowed Japan to get away on the scoreboard.

Coach Pablo Lemoine has paired locks Santiago Pedrero and the experienced Pabo Huete, and selected hooker Tomás Dussaillant, who made his international debut against Brazil in 2016. José Ignacio Larenas was on the left wing.

Hooker Diego Escobar was on the bench along with lock Javier Eissmann. Clemente Saavedra switches from lock to flanker but left winger Franco Velarde — who started against Japan — was out.

“We will try to be physical, probably faster than the last game because we had some doubts against Japan and I think against Samoa we can't,” Lemoine said.

“We can't have that kind of doubt because they will be really, really difficult to stop. They are big boys, running straight — our strategy will be to try to close the space.”



Samoa: Duncan Paia’aua, Danny Toala, Ulupano Seuteni, Tumua Manu, Nigel Ah-Wong, Christian Leali’ifano, Jonathan Taumateine; Steven Luatua, Fritz Lee, Taleni Agaese Seu, Theo McFarland, Chris Vui (co-captain), Michael Ala'alatoa (co-captain), Seilala Lam, James Lay. Reserves: Sama Malolo, Jordan Lay, Paul Alo-Emile, Sam Slade, Sa Jordan Taufua, Ereatara Enari, Lima Sopoaga, Ed Fidow.

Chile: Inaki Ayarza, Santiago Videla, Domingo Saavedra, Matias Garafulic, José Ignacio Larenas, Rodrigo Fernandez, Marcelo Torrealba; Raimundo Martínez, Clemente Saavedra, Martín Sigren (captain), Santiago Pedrero, Pablo Huete, Matias Dittus, Tomás Dussaillant, Javier Carrasco. Reserves: Diego Escobar, Salvador Lues, Esteban Inostroza, Javier Eissmann, Alfonso Escobar, Ignacio Silva, Benjamin Videla, Pablo Casas.


AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby