TAUPO, 28 Sept. – When Samoa’s Alesana Tuilagi played a warm-up match for Super Rugby side the Sharks four years ago, club officials could not find a jersey big enough to fit the giant wing.
Springboks backs coach Dick Muir was head coach of the Sharks in 2007 when he invited Tuilagi to trial for the Durban-based franchise.
“We had an arrangement where I had him on loan,” Muir said at a press conference in Taupo on Wednesday.
“England pulled out a whole lot of players from (English side) Leicester so he then had to go back, which was unfortunate for us.
“Interestingly enough, none of the jerseys fitted him. We had to get a supporter’s jersey especially for him to wear in that game. He’s a big man.”
Muir is now plotting against Tuilagi – nicknamed the Samoan Bulldozer – and the 121kg flyer’s teammates as the Springboks prepare to take on Samoa in their final Pool D match in Auckland on Friday.
The defending champions need at least one point to set up a likely quarter-final against Australia, while Samoa must upset the Springboks with a bonus point to advance.
Asked whether he had a specific plan to combat the power and pace of Tuilagi, Muir joked: “We haven’t got a sniper!
“He’s shown his class all over the world and he seems to just be getting better and better. We need to keep him at bay. We have got a plan.”
To the surprise of their fans, the Samoans have ditched their trademark free-flowing style of rugby and adopting a more structured game plan for RWC 2011.
Muir said they would be “foolish” to change that policy.
“They’ve obviously been together for a long time as a team and you’ve seen the progress,” he said. “They’re a side that are really playing good rugby and they’ve got a lot more structure to their game.
“We’d like to starve them of possession. They’ve got big, strong ball-runners so we’ll have to chop their legs and get them to ground as quickly as we can.”
The Springboks are viewing the match against Samoa, coming off a bruising 27-7 win over Fiji in Auckland on Sunday, as sudden death.
“Look, there’s only one side that’s definitely through to the play-offs and that’s the All Blacks,” Muir pointed out.
“For us it’s still knockout. If we don’t get the result then we don’t make it.”
The Springboks have been boosted by the return of lineout specialist Victor Matfield from a hamstring injury. The 34-year-old will captain the side, with hooker John Smit relegated to the bench.
Having racked up 153 points and conceded just 19 in their three pool matches, South Africa are shaping up as strong contenders to retain the Webb Ellis Cup.
In the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the finals, the accurate kicking of fly half Morné Steyn will be critical.
The 27-year-old from Pretoria-based side the Bulls did not miss an attempt at the posts in South Africa’s 87-0 victory over Namibia last week, kicking 12 conversions and one penalty goal.
“We’re blessed to have a guy like Morné who has such a high-percentage kick rate (85 per cent so far for RWC 2011),” Muir said.
“Last week’s display of kicking was quite exceptional and that’s the sort of standard that we’re expecting.”