Rugby World Cup 2003
England survive Samoa scare
Graham Jenkins reports from the Telstra Dome
October 26, 2003
Prop Phil Vickery dives in to score for England
© Getty Images
England survived a major scare to see off a brave Samoa 35-22 in their Pool C clash at the Telstra Dome, Melbourne.
The South Sea Islanders matched their illustrious opponents for the majority of this game and many were dreaming of another major World Cup scalp for the Samoans following on from memorable triumphs over Wales in 1991 and 1999.
In the end Clive Woodward's side had too much stamina and tries from Iain Balshaw and Phil Vickery in the final quarter brought some sanity to the scoreline and ensured the bonus point that takes them to the top of Pool C once again.
Samoa showed their intent to take this game to England from the off. They had obviously taken copious notes from England's gruelling clash against South Africa. But unlike the Springboks, Samoa were rewarded for their early endeavours.
John Boe's side pressed from the word go, limiting the time and space available to England and in doing so shutting down their creativity. Earl Va'a kicked Samoa into the lead with a penalty after only a couple of minutes and their continued enterprise soon conjured the first try of the game.
Wing Lome Fa'atau made the intial break through the England defensive line like many have tried but failed to do in recent months. The break created the overlap and once fed through the hands skipper Semo Sititi cut inside to force his way over for the five pointer.
The phase move was capped by the conversion from Va'a that gave the Samoans a remarkable ten point lead. As last weekend England struggled to click into gear due largely to the Samoan pressure and when they did get a chance to get onto the scoreboard their banker Jonny Wilkinson missed the target for the first time in the tournament.
His kick from 45m was wide and the shock was evident in the crowd's disbelief. Samoa took this as another sign that this may be their day and upped their game once again. They almost extended their lead through the boot of Va'a but his latest effort hit the post before it was cleared by Wilkinson.
England returned to a tried and tested method for getting reward to drag themselves back into the game. A Wilkinson penalty took the game into the Samoan 22, and following a catch and drive Neil Back touched down to claim the try. Wilkinson added the extras but the pendulum was not ready to swing.
England drew level with another Wilkinson penalty, but Va'a ensured it wasn't for long just moments later. And England skipper Martin Johnson compounded their position shortly after conceding another penalty that Va'a duly slotted over.
England had one final chance to ensure they at least ended a topsy-turvy half on level terms but this time Wilkinson hit the post from the place kick - also to equal disbelief that greeted his first miss.
The second period brought a more organised England and they began to get a bit more joy but the Samoans were refusing to let their work rate drop.
But the pressre soon told with the referee choosing to award a penalty try after the Samoan pack pulled the England 5m scrum down. It was due reward for a sustained bout of pressure and Wilkinson added the easy extras to re-gainm the lead.
Any thoughts that the flood gates would now open were soon dispelled when Va'a pounced on an indiscretion from Back to slot yet another three points. The Samoans rallied once again and after some unprecedented joy at the England lineout another England penalty gave Samoa the chance to re-gain the lead themselves which Va'a grabbed.
This appeared to rattle England and break from Ben Cohen dragged his team 70m upfield where he was hauled down just short. Balshaw also went close before Wilkinson opted to slot a neat drop goal.
England continued to press but the resilient Samoan defence held out, often scrambling desperately to plug the gaps.
A moment of magic from Wilkinson produced Balshaw's try shortly after. This time England secured the lineout ball, and a cross kick from the No.10 was met at pace by the winger who slid in for a superb score. But Wilkinson was off target again with the conversion that ensured this game still had some life in it.
Realising that they still had to kill this game off the England forwards continued to batter holes in the tiring Samoan defence, and replacement Vickery stepped into a gap to put the game away. The conversion from Wilkinson will not stop him having a sleepless night.
There is plenty to work on for England, caused paartly by the changes to the line up, but once again there was no panic from Woodward's troops under pressure. They backed themselves to respond and they did. Wilkinson's failures with the boot will have brightened England's rivals' days, but they should take note that this side came out on top after another thorough examination.
In the end the Samoans took a deserved lap of honour and were duly rewarded by the Telstra Dome crowd. Following this scare England take on the minnows from Uruguay before re-grouping for the quarter-finals. For Samoa, the quarter-final dream is still alive and the Springboks will not be looking forward to facing this kind of Samoan performance.
Replacements: Catt for Abbott (71), Thompson for Regan (50), Vickery for White (50), Moody for Worsley (50).
Not Used: Corry, Gomarsall, Luger.
Samoa: Vili, Fa'atau, Fanolua, Lima, Tagicakibau, Va'a, So'oialo, Lealamanua, Meredith, Tomuli, Palepoi, Lafaiali'i, Poulos, Fa'asavalu, Sititi.
Replacements: Rasmussen for Fanolua (46), Feaunati for Tagicakibau (74), Tyrell for So'oialo (76), Schwalger for Meredith (75), Lemalu for Tomuli (54), Tuiavi'i for Lafaiali'i (66), Viliamu for Poulos (63).