Rugby World Cup 2007
England weather Samoa storm
September 22, 2007
Paul Sackey vies with the Samoa defence during a hard-fought win for England
© Getty Images
England defeated a spirited Samoa 44-22 in their Rugby World Cup Pool A clash in Nantes. England survived a major World Cup scare against Samoa in Nantes to keep their quarter-final hopes alive.
Fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, making his first start of the tournament after recovering from an ankle injury, kicked 24 points, while skipper Martin Corry and wing Paul Sackey scored two tries each. England saw a 17-point lead after 32 minutes whittled down to 26-22 before Wilkinson nailed the game through a drop-goal and a 51-metre penalty, and Corry claimed his second touchdown.
Samoa scrum-half Junior Polu scored a try and full-back Loki Crichton booted five penalties and a conversion, but Samoa crashed out while England now face a knockout clash against Tonga in Paris next Friday night that will decide who joins South Africa in the last-eight from Pool A.
England faced World Cup judgment day in their critical Pool A clash against Samoa at the Stade de la Beaujoire. The reigning world champions, reeling from a record 36-0 World Cup defeat to South Africa eight days ago, needed victory in the quest for a quarter-final place.
Defeat would leave them lurching towards the exit door, knowing that Samoa could knock them out by claiming a bonus point success against America next Wednesday. But an overdue England win would make next week's Parc des Princes appointment with Tonga a straight knockout game for the last eight.
England paraded 2003 World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half - his first game of the tournament after recovering from an ankle injury - while a reshaped back division also saw Olly Barkley, Mathew Tait and Mark Cueto starting.
Elsewhere, Josh Lewsey replaced injured full-back Jason Robinson, and changes up-front following the Springboks debacle meant hooker George Chuter and flanker Joe Worsley being drafted in. Samoa included six Guinness Premiership-based players among their backs, with 35-year-old Brian Lima, the only man to play in five World Cups, named at inside centre.
Wilkinson's first World Cup contribution since his drop-goal won the 2003 final in Sydney saw him launch an eagerly-awaited contest into action. And it took England just 79 seconds to make a statement, scoring a try from their first attack.
Alert lock Simon Shaw charged down Samoan fly-half Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu's attempted clearance, and although an unkind bounce prevented Shaw's Wasps colleague Joe Worsley from touching down, England were not to be denied.
Quickly recycled possession almost saw Cueto go over, but when the direction of attack was switched, skipper Martin Corry crashed over for a try that Wilkinson converted. And things got even better four minutes later when Wilkinson dropped a goal following another bout of pressure. England were flying, 10-0 ahead and keeping Samoa pinned on the back foot.
There was no let-up in the early scoring onslaught as Samoa full-back Loki Crichton, a former Newcastle team-mate of Wilkinson's, slotted an angled penalty. Samoa had stirred, and number eight Henry Tuilagi blasted through Worsley's attempted tackle, setting up an imposing platform from which Crichton landed his second penalty.
England had quickly seen their lead slashed to just four points, and it took Wilkinson's 15th minute penalty to calm the nerves, hoisting the world champions 13-6 clear. Samoa, despite threatening England's defence with ball in hand, were also guilty of glaring disciplinary lapses.
And, when flanker Dan Leo appeared on the wrong side of a ruck, Wilkinson punished him by kicking another penalty. It restored England's early 10 point advantage at 16-6, but Wilkinson then missed a straight 38-metre shot that let Samoa off the hook. Samoa skipper Semo Sititi sought clarification of Irish referee Alan Lewis' decisions, yet England held the initiative in terms of territory and possession.
There was also an aggression and organisation about England that had been lacking in their opening pool games against the United States and South Africa. England struck another telling blow eight minutes before the break. The impressive Cueto again ran strongly, and with Samoa's defence stretched, Wilkinson sent through a neat kick as a grateful Sackey collected and took England further ahead.
Wilkinson's conversion made it 23-6, and although Samoa still looked a threat in attack, England looked to be moving through the gears. Crichton reduced the arrears by kicking two ball penalties, yet England were good value for their interval advantage. England needed a solid start to the second period, but Crichton kicked another penalty before Wilkinson quickly cancelled that out by landing a three-pointer.
Samoa centre Lima should have been yellow-carded for a tackle on Wilkinson that led to the penalty, yet Samoa sensed they were not out of the contest. And those hopes increased on 47 minutes when they hauled England further back through a try that needed lengthy checking by video referee Bryce Lawrence.
Hooker Mahonri Schwalger's kick rolled over the England line, sparking a chase between scrum-half Junior Polu and Tait, with the try eventually being awarded. Crichton converted, and England's lead had been whittled down to 26-22, with nerves suddenly taking over.
Wilkinson missed another penalty chance, and England's World Cup hopes were suddenly under a huge microscope. England appeared to be in a state of disbelief, but Samoa knew they could conceivably pull off an astounding victory, and they laid siege to the opposition line.
It was backs-to-the-wall stuff for England as Samoa kept pounding away. Entering the final 10 minutes - and with rival coaches Brian Ashton and Michael Jones both making regular substitutions - England knew they had to take the sting out of Samoa's tail.
Prop Perry Freshwater, lock Steve Borthwick and flanker Lewis Moody all joined the action from England's bench, and it was Wilkinson who offered a degree of breathing space by rifling over a drop-goal and 51-metre penalty. England now had to keep things tight and start counting down the clock, and they knew they were home when Corry rounded off fine work by Sackey to claim his second try.
Wilkinson converted, and at last they could breathe easily, then Sackey added his second touchdown, England had a bonus point and they now move on to facing Tonga.
England (23) 44
Samoa (12) 22
England: Lewsey, Sackey, Tait, Barkley, Cueto, Wilkinson, Gomarsall, Sheridan, Chuter, Stevens, Shaw, Kay, Corry, Worsley, Easter.
Replacements: Regan, Freshwater, Borthwick, Moody, Richards, Farrell, Hipkiss.
Samoa: Crichton, Lemi, Mapusua, Lima, A. Tuilagi, Fuimaono-Sapolu, Poluleuigaga, Lealamanua, Schwalger, Johnston, J. Tekori, Thompson, Leo, Sititi, H. Tuilagi.
Replacements: Fuga, Pala'amo, Purdie, Vaeluaga, Sooialo, Meafou, Lui.
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland)