Wales cling on for victory

Date published: November 14 2009

Wales' Pacific Island jinx nearly struck again on Friday as they laboured to a scrappy 17-13 win over Samoa in Cardiff.

Wales' Pacific Island jinx nearly struck again on Friday as they laboured to a scrappy 17-13 win over Samoa in Cardiff.

They rode their luck though, ending up holding on desperately to a four-point lead after Seilala Mapusua's intercept try had brought the Samoans back into the game on the hour mark.

It looked so good after five minutes. Wales had stretched the Samoans this way and that, winning an early penalty and scoring a gem of a try when Leigh Halfpenny collected Dan Biggar's kick on the wing. But that was about it. For the rest of the match, the Welsh simply struggled to match the physicality of the men in blue and their own organisation faltered as a result.

Offloads didn't stick, the decision-making went awry. Dan Biggar eschewed three big overlaps in the run up to Mapusua's intercept before then hanging on to the ball too long and chucking out a sitter for the experienced centre to pick off and score. This was a young team which needed to learn, but any team has to do better than that with 65 per cent of the possession.

Samoa did not offer anything unexpected, indeed the sophistication of their own play was at a lesser level than usual. Rarely in the first hour did they pose a major attacking threat. Lolo Lui was sin-binned for a murderous charge on Dwayne Peel which left the scrum-half stunned for a good three minutes. Only later in the game did the Samoans break free, but it was too late. Welsh fans will not like to consider what might have been had they tried it a bit earlier.

The Tuilagi brothers were also flinging their weight around with barely legal abandon and the rest of the blue shirts marauded around the fringes of rucks, exploiting well the leeway given to them by referee Peter Fitzgibbon. It was disruptive and effective, but Wales had to rise above it. They didn't, and nearly paid the price.

There were good things too. Some of the handling, particularly from the forwards, was almost dainty. There was an encouraging number of line-breaks – eleven to Samoa's two in the end – which at least shows that the team is heading in a good direction.

The first of those was by Alun-Wyn Jones, who tock an inside pass from Biggar and offloaded to Peel. Peel accelerated before offloading to Warburton and then being flattened by Lui. Warburton was brought down a metre short and his tackler was penalised for not releasing too. Lui went to the bin as Biggar clipped over the points.

Right from the restart Samoa equalised, with Welsh chasers in front of Peel's box-kick, but with the Welsh already creating problems out wide, Biggar spied David Lemi off his wing and hoisted a fabulous cross-kick into Halfpenny's arms for the winger to do the rest.

Biggar extended the lead on sixteen minutes after George Stowers was caught holding on in a tackle, and with Wales' kicking game vastly superior, Samoa could not get out of their half.

As the game approached the half-hour and Warburton – excellent on the night – once again found a hole to get through, before James Hook – another standout performer – was denied by a crunching tackle from Alesana Tuilagi, you sensed Wales were turning the screw. A try before the break might have killed things off.

Instead Samoa found their way into Wales' half with some good kicking themselves, and Fa'atonu Fili missed one sitter of a penalty before landing a second and sending the teams into the changing rooms at 11-6 to Wales.

The second half began as the first had ended, Wales in the ascendancy, finding small holes but not opening them up enough. James Hook had the best opportunity, tearing away down the left where he could have passed inside or chipped. Instead he dummied and held on and was cleaned up by Lui having isolated himself in the process.

Still, Halfpenny and Biggar had both notched kicks to put the Welsh a comfortable 17-6 ahead, but then Biggar made his howler just as the Samoans were looking ripe for the picking and within a minute, it was 17-13.

From then, it only got worse. Samoa found a second wind of hurricane-strength and had Wales desperately clutching on in defence. Mapusua and Uale Mai almost combined to scoring effect down the right. David Lemi's chip and chase was wonderfully rescued by Halfpenny at the last gasp. Welsh attacks continued to lack the fluency or cohesion of the first half and shades of 1991 hung in the air.

Alas for Samoa it was not to be. But with only three days' preparation, this was an impressive display of guts and nous. For three weeks of preparation, Wales came up distinctly short.

Man of the match: A tough one to call. While the Welsh were not on song as a team, there were many individual moments of brilliance: James Hook, Ryan Jones, Andy Powell, Dwayne Peel and Sam Warburton can all hold heads high. But sticking it all together and putting his all into it when it often mattered most was the energetic Gethin Jenkins, who also produced a sterling scrummaging effort. For Samoa, mention should be made to Cencus Johnston and Junior Polu.

Moment of the match: Halfpenny's try and Mapusua's reply both featured, but Leigh Halfpenny's save of David Lemi's chip and chase was the moment when the sighs of relief began to pour forth from the Millennium Stadium stands.

Villain of the match: It makes for good viewing, but Lolo Lui should study tapes of his hit on Dwayne Peel and Alesana Tuilagi's on James Hook and spot the difference in the freeze frames: namely the lack of a ball in Peel's hand.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Try: Halfpenny
Pens: Biggar 3, Halfpenny

For Samoa:
Try: Mapusua
Con: Fili
Pens: Fili 2

Yellow cards: Lui (2, Samoa, dangerous tackle), H Tuilagi (52, Samoa, repeated infringement)

Wales: 15 James Hook, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Ryan Jones (c), 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Andy Powell, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Paul James, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Craig Mitchell, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Jonathan Thomas, 20 Martin Roberts, 21 Jonathan Davies, 22 Morgan Stoddart.

Samoa: 15 Lolo Lui, 14 David Lemi, 13 Gavin Williams, 12 Seilala Mapusua, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Fa'atonu Fili, 9 Junior Polu, 8 Henry Tuilagi, 7 Ofisa Treviranus, 6 George Stowers (c), 5 Iosefa Tekori, 4 Filipo Levi, 3 Cencus Johnston, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Justin Va'a.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Williams, 17 Sakaria Taulafo, 18 Kane Thompson, 19 Jonny Faamatuianu, 20 Uale Mai, 21 Henry Fa'afili, 22 Titi Esau.

Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Dave Pearson (England), Rob Debney (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)
Assessor: Bob Francis (New Zealand)

By Danny Stephens