Fiji and Samoa have both promised not to let emotions get the better of them in this weekend's Pacific Islands showdown which will decide which team has a chance of - possibly - escaping the 'Pool of Death' (Pool D) in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
A full-house is expected at Auckland's 60,000-seat Eden Park for Sunday's fixture matching two of the tournament's most compelling teams in front of tens of thousands of fanatical expatriate supporters.
"It's a huge game for both countries," admitted Fiji captain Deacon Manu this week.
"There's a lot of support in New Zealand for both teams," he added. "It's going to be quite emotional for a lot of the guys out there, playing in front of so many people and in front of so many fans and family."
Manu pledged that Fiji would not abandon the famous running game which took them to a 36-18 win over the selfsame Samoans in the Pacific Nations Cup action in July, while Samoa showed their intent by giving hulking prop Census Johnston his first start of the World Cup.
The stakes are high with both teams sitting on one win and one defeat from two games and needing victory on Sunday to have a shot at qualifying from a killer Pool D also including South Africa, Wales and Namibia.
"When you look at the draw this is the main hinge-point of how the pool's going to go," Manu said.
"It's going to be such a tough encounter up front and in the back line. There's probably not going to be much in it and there's going to be so much passion and emotion around.
"We've got to make sure we control that and really just stick to the game plan and believe we can do it."
While historical results favour Fiji 25-17, Samoa are the form team after shocking Australia in July and running Wales close last weekend in Hamilton.
Samoa have to beat Fiji and defending champions South Africa to reach their first quarterfinal in 16 years, whilst Fiji would need to win on Sunday and then against Wales next weekend to reach the Last Eight for the second successive World Cup.
"The reality is if we want to be quarterfinalists, we have to win the next two games. The equation is pretty simple for us," said Samoan assistant coach Tom Coventry.
"The first step is getting past Fiji. The last time we played them, they beat us in Suva. They played pretty well that day. So we know it's a big challenge for us and we will look at South Africa after the weekend.
"We knew before we came that we would have to beat either the Welsh or the Fijians and the South Africans to get through. They call it the 'Pool of Death', so we will just have to make sure we knock each game off at a time."
Fiji named a new-look back row among four changes to their pack and have also brought in veteran flyhalf Nicky Little, 35, for his 70th cap.
Samoa, meanwhile, will look to Toulouse prop Johnston to provide go-forward and influential flyhalf Tusi Pisi - in terms of playmaking and converting points on offer - after he sat out the Wales game with a hamstring injury. (Does it matter that both players were born in Auckland?)
"These boys are seasoned professionals, they've played a lot of rugby in Britain and Europe and in New Zealand, so they're no novices at getting themselves up for big occasions," said Coventry.
"Keeping the emotions (under control) is always a big part of getting a Test match won.
"Certainly there's some hype, there's talk of a big crowd there on Sunday and we're aware that we need to get our heads around that and also function as a team."
Players to Watch:
For Fiji: As his team's captain, and having been born in New Zealand, it seems appropriate that one keeps an eye on tighthead prop Deacon Manu. Tightheads, of course, are the mainstay of any line-up... but Manu is more than just the scrummaging key for his team - he is their leader and inspiration and he will have a big role to play in terms of keeping Fiji's eye on the ball and the task at hand.
For Samoa: At 135 kilograms, how can you miss tighthead prop Census Johnston? Watch him... or should that be, try not to watch him?! The other man to keep an eye on is hooker and captain Mahonri Schwalger. Like Manu he is more than just another player; he is the key man for his team and, arguably, the best hooker on show at the 2011 Rugby World Cup at the moment.
Head to Head: Speedster Vereniki Goneva scored four tries in Fiji's 49-25 win over Namibia on Day Two of the 2011 RWC. A few days later, Samoa went one better as they beat Namibia 49-12, with giant winger Alesana Tuilagi evoking memories of one Jonah Lomu as he racked up a hat-trick of tries. The ball WILL go wide on Sunday - so the battle between these two try machines will be worth watching... as will the head-to-head between the other opposing wingers, Naipolioni Nalaga (Fiji - left-wing) and Sailosi Tagicakibau (Samoa - right-wing).
2011: Fiji won 36-18 in Suva
2010: Samoa won 31-9 in Apia
2009: Fiji won 19-14 in Lautoka
2008: Fiji won 34-17 in Lautoka
2007: Samoa won 8-3 in Apia
2006: Fiji won 23-20 in Suva
2005: Fiji won 21-15 in Suva
2005: Samoa won 36-10 in Apia
2004: Fiji won 29-3 in Suva
2002: Samoa won 22-12 in Nadi
2002: Fiji won 17-16 in Apia
Prediction: Wow, this really is a tough one to call. Based on recent history, one would have to go with Fiji who recorded a crushing 36-18 win the last time these sides met (in Suva in July). However, on current form - and with that mid-year win over the Wallabies fresh in our memory/ies - we are going to put our money on Samoa... just. Samoa to win by eight points.
Fiji: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Gaby Lovobalavu, 12 Seremaia Bai, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Nicky Little, 9 Nemia Kenatale, 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, 7 Mala Ravulo, 6 Netani Edward Talei, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Seko Kalou, 3 Deacon Manu (captain), 2 Sunia Koto, 1 Campese Ma'afu.
Replacements: 16 Talemaitoga Dautu Tuapati, 17 Setefano Somoca, 18 Rupeni Nasiga, 19 Akapusi Qera, 20 Vitori Tomu Buatava, 21 Albert James Vulivuli, 22 Waisea Sedre Luveniyali.
Samoa: 15 Paul Williams, 14 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 13 George Pisi, 12 Seilala Mapusua, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 George Stowers, 7 Maurie Faasavalu, 6 Taiasina Tuifua, 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Daniel Leo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Mahonri Schwalger (captain), 1 Sakaria Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Filipo Lavea Levi, 19 Manaia Salavea, 20 Jeremy Sua, 21 Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu, 22 James Sooialo.
Date: Sunday, September 25
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 15.00 (02.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Morning rain, then showers. Southwest change. Min 7°C, Max 16°C.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Stuart Terheege (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
AFP & rugby365.com
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