Planet Rugby

Samoan early rush enough

26th September 2007 20:48

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Kane Thompson try

Samoa's Kane Thompson dives over for the crucial try

Samoa ended a five-match World Cup losing streak and recorded their first win at the 2007 tournament when they held out a strong, late charge from the United States to record a 25-21 win at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint Etienne, on Wednesday.

If ever there was a game of two contrasting halves, this was it.

The Samoans dominated the first 40 minutes with their fleet-footed and expansive game, scoring three tries without reply to take a 19-point (22-3) lead into the half-time break.

The US Eagles bounced back in the second 40 to score 18 points and came within a few minutes of victory.

In the end they left their charge too late and ran out of time.

As Eagles captain Mike Hercus said after the game, they have got into a habit at the World Cup of getting off to a slow start and then having to chase the game.

They now face one of the tournament favourites, South Africa, in their final pool match on Sunday and Wednesday's outing was their last realistic chance of a win in France.

The Samoans, after a series of very disappointing performances, finally showed some of their skills, especially in the first half.

"We had to front up in those first 10 to 15 minutes," captain Semo Sititi said.

"Luckily we those points and managed to hang on for the win," he added.

After a bit of early aerial ping-pong, both teams showed a willingness to play a more expansive game.

The Samoans were certainly more successful at this - it is their natural instinct - and after five minutes winger Lome Fa'atau went over in the right corner. It came from a poor American line-out, turned over by Samoa, and quick hands which left too many gaps in the Eagles' defence. Loki Crichton failed with the conversion attempt, but the Samoans were on their way.

Four minutes later the Samoans were at it again. First Seilala Mapusua burst through the defence in midfield, before offloading to Alesana Tuilagi on the left. The big Samoan not only knocked a tackler down, but his weight carried him over the line on the slippery surface for his team's second try. This time Crichton added the conversion for a 12-0 lead.

The Americans, who were under pressure in the set pieces, tried their best to shut down the Samoans out wide and succeeded for long periods.

However, the Eagles simply couldn't clear their lines effectively and spent most of the time inside their own 22.

It eventually cost them as Crichton slotted a penalty in the 29th minute to make it 15-0.

The Americans finally got some reward for their efforts when captain and fly-half Mike Hercus slotted a penalty two minutes later to make it 15-3.

But the Samoans showed their dominance by scoring their third try just before the break. It started with wing Alesana Tuilagi easily beating his marker and then setting the Pacific Islanders on their way, and it ended with lock Kane Thompson strolling over under the uprights. Crichton's conversion made it 22-3 at the break.

The Eagles scored the first points after the break and it came soon after they were reduced to 14 men by a questionable decision by the match referee Wayne Barnes - who sent number eight Tasi Mounga to the bin for a professional foul.

America's Zimbabwean winger Takudzwa Ngwenya easily stepped his more illustrious opponent, Alesana Tuilagi, and then broke another tackle before showing his pace by racing downfield 50 metres for a score. Hercus' conversion narrowed the gap to 22-10.

Mounga, minutes after returning from his sin-binning, was stretchered off when he collected a forearm from Samoan flank Justin Purdie.

The Eagles continued their revival with a second Hercus penalty in the 65th minute and at 13-22 they were back in the game.

Samoa finally got back in control and after a period of pressure, Crichton slotted a penalty when the Eagles went offside - making it 25-13 after 71 minutes and seemingly safe for the Pacific players.

Hercus slotted a 75th minute penalty and there was still some hope.

The Eagles had one last fling, with flank Louis Stanfill barging over in the 80th minute - from a scrum five metres out. However, as Hercus' conversion sailed wide and the final whistle went, you could see the disappointment on the American faces, realising they had left their comeback too late once again.

Man of the match: Samoan fly-half Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu was involved in a lot of the early play-making and prop Census Johnston went on a few strong runs to come close for this award, but we are giving it to Samoan fullback Loki Crichton for an allround great performance. He was strong on the run, elusive and sound on defence. But it was his tactical appreciation that made the real difference in that first half when he kept the Americans pinned deep inside their own territory.

Moment of the match: The three Samoan tries in the first half were all entertaining affairs, and the last American try was a worthy score. But the best moment came when Eagles wing Takudzwa Ngwenya scored in the 53rd minute by showing up Samoa's famous powerhouse Alesana Tuilagi with his ability to break a tackle and also use his blistering pace.

Villains of the match: Samoan flank Justin Purdie made an early entry into this unsavoury awards section when he decided to display the Samoans' strong appetite for thuggish behaviour - a late tackle on Mike Hercus long after the American had kicked the ball. The fact the he was not yellow (or even red) carded is just another prime example of the shocking inability of officials at the tournament to be even-handed in their treatment of players - which of course also earns referee Wayne Barnes an entry into this section for not taking proper action. Those who suggest this Englishman is a candidate to referee the final should not only take their blinkers off, but also go see a psychiatrist. As for Tasi Mounga's yellow card early in the second half - that earns Mr Barnes another entry for his over officious behaviour. Silao Vaisola Sefo, the Samoan reserve hooker, made a late entry with more thuggery - when he needlessly charge into the back of a prone player way off the ball.

The scorers:

For the United States:

Tries: Ngwenya, Stanfill

Con: Hercus

Pens: Hercus 3

For Samoa:

Tries: Fa'atau, Tuilagi, Thompson

Cons: Crichton 2

Pens: Crichton 2

Yellow cards: Tasi Mounga (United States, 51 - professional foul), Silao Vaisola Sefo (Samoa, 76 - foul play)

The teams:

United States: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Salesi Sika, 13 Phillip Eloff, 12 Vahafolau Esikia, 11 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 10 Mike Hercus (captain), 9 Chad Erskine, 8 Tasi Mounga, 7 Todd Clever, 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Hayden Mexted, 4 Alec Parker, 3 Chris Osentowski, 2 Owen Lentz, 1 Mike MacDonald.

Replacements: 16 Blake Burdette, 17 Matekitonga Moeakiola, 18 Mark Aylor, 19 Henry Bloomfield, 20 Mike Petri, 21 Valenese Malifa, 22 Albert Tuipulotu.

Samoa: 15 Loki Crichton, 14 Lome Fa'atau, 13 Seilala Mapusua, 12 Elvis Seveali'i, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, 9 Junior Polu, 8 Alfie Vaeluaga, 7 Justin Purdie, 6 Semo Sititi (captain), 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Leo Lafaiali'i, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Kas Lealamanua.

Replacements: 16 Silao Vaisola Sefo, 17 Naama Leleimalefaga, 18 Joe Tekori, 19 Ulia Ulia, 20 Steve So'oialo, 21 David Lemi, 22 Lolo Lui.

Referee: Wayne Barnes

Touch judges: Hugh Watkins, Mark Lawrence

Television match official: Dave Pearson

Assessor: Bob Francis

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