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England do enough against Samoa

20th November 2010 12:50

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England v Samoa Shontayne Hape

Physical affair: Shontayne Hape

England survived an early second-half scare to record a 26-13 victory over a spirited Samoan outfit at Twickenham.

Martin Johnson's side were trailing 6-8 in the 42nd minute after Sale full-back Paul Williams had caught the Red Rose napping. But from there, the home side clicked into gear as scores from Matt Banahan and Tom Croft won it.

It was not a thing of beauty though and this week there were no wonder tries at HQ.

Yet against a steel-like Samoan defence Johnson's side did what they had to do.

They won, professionally and clinically. When we remember how difficult victories came just twelve months ago that is another measure of progress.

Indeed, the really encouraging thing was that England tried to continue from where they left off against Australia.

They tried to play with width and adventure. They used the pace of Ben Foden and Chris Ashton and the superb Mark Cueto, who has now gone sixteen matches without scoring a try for England in what is one of rugby's great mysteries.

Cueto again epitomised everything Johnson's team are striving to become. Quick to run, swift to see the gap. Daring.

The problem was that whereas against Australia everything came off in a match which was near perfect technically, against Samoa too often they were sloppy and imprecise in their passing and kicking.

Give Samoa credit. They had lost by only 10 points to Ireland last weekend. They were no pushovers. In fact, they play a brand of rugby which is as physical as it is entertaining.

It is full of quick thinking and enterprising handling and it rocked England, especially in the early exchanges.

Where last weekend England had carved great holes in Australia's defence almost from the first whistle this time they met men in blue who have added organisation to their undoubted flair.

Men who frustrated their progress with crushing tackles, especially London Irish centre Seilala Mapusua. It is easy in such circumstances to try too hard and England were guilty of that in the first half.

Toby Flood, so imperious against Australia, threw too many long, looping passes which struggled to reach their destination.

Foden failed to get the ball down in the corner when it appeared he must score and Ashton burst through and over the whitewash only to be recalled for a forward pass.

The action, however, was never fluent, unless we count one almighty slugging match mid-way through the half which saw more punches thrown than Audley Harrison has managed in an entire career.

Partly, the erratic nature of the skirmish was down to the domination of England's scrummage.

Samoa, who had performed so creditably against Ireland's pack, could not cope with England's front row of Andrew Sheridan, David Wilson and Dylan Hartley. There was too much weight, too much technique coming their way and time and again they buckled.

It did not make for pretty viewing, even if England did spurn penalty after penalty in favour of another push-fest.

The stats board, however, told the story. In that first half Samoa made 77 tackles against 17 from England. Total domination from England, just the execution was lacking.

It meant the teams went in with England leading 6-3, courtesy of two tries from Flood and one from Samoa full-back Paul Williams.

England could hardly have started the second half in worse fashion, sluggishly allowing Williams to cruise over for the first touchdown after 40 seconds.

It was the first try of Williams' career and the first by Samoa at Twickenham. And they deserved it.

The Twickenham faithful might have been a little worried at that point, although there was no hint of panic down on the pitch.

If anything that is the virtue of Johnson's side. They have belief in their character as well as their ability.

And they produced the try of the match when Shontayne Hape made the break, fed Ashton and there was Banahan to secure the touchdown. Croft added another to give the scoreline a flattering look.

It was a long way from perfect, especially as Gavin Williams crossed for a late try for Samoa. But it was a reasonably comfortable victory. One which provides another brick in Johnson's rebuilding programme.

Man-of-the-match: Despite being on the losing team, we had to go for Samoa full-back Paul Williams, who contributed a try and a penalty. Extremely effective in attack and painfully solid in defence. Spot on, as was an in-form Mark Cueto on the left wing for England.

Moment-of-the-match: 'Moments' ... Andrew Sheridan's rampaging runs through the heart of the Samoan defence. His comeback to international rugby following injury has been a swift one, but my has it been impressive.

Villain-of-the-match: Answers on a postcard. Little really to speak of.

The scorers:

For England:
Tries: Banahan, Croft
Con: Flood 2
Pen: Flood 3

For Samoa:
Tries: P Williams, G Williams
Pen: P Williams

England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Matt Banahan, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter (c), 7 Hendre Fourie, 6 James Haskell, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 Dan Cole, 18 Dave Attwood, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Danny Care, 21 Charlie Hodgson, 22 Delon Armitage.

Samoa: 15 Paul Williams, 14 David Lemi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Seilala Mapasua, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tasesa Lavea, 9 Kahn Fotualii, 8 George Stowers, 7 Manaia Salavea, 6 Ofisa Treviranus, 5 Filipo Levi, 4 Kane Thompson, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Mahonri Schwalger (c), 1 Sakaria Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Census Johnston, 18 Joe Tekori, 19 Afa Aiono, 20 Junior Poluleuligaga, 21 Jamie Helleur, 22 Gavin Williams.

Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Alan Lewis (Ireland), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)

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