There was a shuddering blow for Wales to absorb yesterday, 24 hours before the small matter of their collision with the big hitters from the South Sea islands. Alun Wyn Jones had already been ruled out of tonight's confrontation with Samoa at the Millennium Stadium but news that the Ospreys second row requires surgery to repair the shoulder damage he suffered against Argentina last Saturday will have done little to lift Red Dragon spirits before a crucial contest against the underdogs who have a taste for slaying them.
Scans have revealed that Wyn Jones needs to undergo reconstruction surgery and the 2009 Lions lock faces a lengthy lay-off that could rule him out of the bulk of the Six Nations Championship. "He is due to undergo the surgery at the end of this week," Chris Towers, the Ospreys physiotherapist, said, "and we will be looking at a 12 to 16 week rehab process post-op to get him back on the field." That would leave the 27-year-old Ospreys captain precious little Six Nations time in which to press his claims for a place on the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia. Not that the rest of the Welsh squad are without more pressing concerns.
Indeed, with Steve Hansen and his all-conquering All Blacks due in Cardiff next week, a return to winning ways tonight would be a bottom-line requirement for Rob Howley, the assistant coach left in interim charge while Warren Gatland is on Lions preparation duty. Last weekend Wales were second best from first to last against an Argentina side palpably sharpened by their Rugby Championship experience. The 26-12 defeat came on the back of three losses in Australia in the summer and a fifth successive reverse would surely leave the Grand Slammers of last spring drained of all confidence going into their meeting with the world champions.
"The win is even more important to us now," acknowledged the Tongan-born, Ebbw Vale-raised No 8 Toby Faletau, the one Welsh player who performed with distinction against the Pumas. "We still have a great opportunity in this series and we have worked too hard to let up now.
"We have the chance to put right some of the things we got wrong against the Pumas. We know we are better than we showed last weekend and this is the time to prove it."
Faletau will be out to prove the point with two new back row partners in tow. The in-form Osprey Justin Tipuric comes in at openside flanker to replace the out-of-sorts Sam Warburton, while Ryan Jones returns as blindside flanker, assuming the captaincy from Warburton, who will be on bench duty.
Samoa already have a win on tour under their belt this week after cruising past Canada 42-13 at Colwyn Bay.Their line-up includes seven players based with British clubs, including the Northampton centre George Pisi, the Worcester wing David Lemi, the Ospreys scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i and the Harlequins flanker Maurie Fa'asavalu.
They will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of the fellow countrymen who famously beat Wales in Cardiff in the World Cups of 1991 and 1999. The 1991 team, featuring Pat Lam, Frank Bunce and Brian Lima, played as Western Samoa, prompting the dry observation in the wake of the stunning 16-13 result that it was a good job that Wales weren't facing the whole of Samoa. They did in 1999 and again lost, 38-31 – with Howley as captain.
The most recent meeting was a bruising World Cup pool stage encounter in Hamilton last year. Wales were forced to make 142 tackles en route to a 17-10 victory.
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