Rugby World Cup
Scotland bounce off the ropes against fearless Samoa and into quarterfinals
Tristan Barclay
October 10, 2015
Scotland must be more structured

NEWCASTLE -- In a nutshell, this game delivered one outcome: Scotland are in the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup. But in true Scottish sporting style, that doesn't even tell half the story of a match that veered from laudable to laughable for fully 80 minutes.

By the end, it was the highest scoring match of the tournament and its key contributor -- Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw -- had jumped to the top of the individual scoring charts. Perhaps the stat that will ring around Scotland the most, however, is this: for the first time since 1978, they have outlasted the Auld Enemy, England, in a major sporting tournament. And in England's own backyard to boot.

It was not an easy ride, however, and credit to the Samoans who came out of the dressing room like a steam train, clearly intent on exiting this tournament with their heads held high having already been all but eliminated. The result was 80 minutes of the most chaotic rugby of the tournament so far, with the Northern Hemisphere side scraping victory by a mere penalty.

Greig Laidlaw of Scotland scores a try © Getty Images

Samoa's Ma'atulimanu Leiataua celebrates with team-mates after scoring a try, Scotland v Samoa, Rugby World Cup, St James' Park, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, October 10, 2015
Samoa's Ma'atulimanu Leiataua celebrates with team-mates after scoring a try © Getty Images

Samoa had Scotland on the ropes for most of this crucial Pool B clash, battering through a meek defensive line and throwing the whole kitchen suite at them in the tackle. Eventually Scotland's fitness and strength in depth would come to their rescue, but defeat was a real possibility throughout a fraught afternoon at St James' Park.

The Pacific Islanders, routed by Japan in their last outing and spanked by South Africa prior to that. However, they came to the North East with nothing to lose and played like men determined to prove what a proud rugby nation they are.

Scotland, on the other hand, had everything on the line. Victory was required to seal their place in the quarterfinals, a World Cup stage they have not reached since 2007. While Samoa played without fear, Scotland played like men without any sense at all. It would be hard even to say they were nervous -- they were simply chaotic in the first half and erratic in the second.

The game opened as if Scotland had forgotten how to defend, with Samoa running riot through the holes in the Dark Blues' line. It is nothing new to say that modern rugby players are big men, but the Pacific Islanders take that to a new level and at times it looked as if Scotland were a little outgunned, with Samoan runner after Samoan runner breaking the gainline.

Tusi Pisi ensured a terrible start to Scotland's day as he sprung off a Alafoti Faosiliva's burst to the five metre line to touch down after 10 minutes. But before Samoa fans had time to return to their seats, Scotland hit back via Tommy Seymour. Thirty seconds later and Samoa scored their second try through Manu Leiataua, and seven minutes on from that they had their third thanks to Reynold Lee-Lo. It was a breathless opening quarter.

Scotland's Sean Maitland makes a break, Scotland v Samoa, Rugby World Cup, St James' Park, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on October 10, 2015
Scotland's Sean Maitland makes a break © Getty Images

Scotland struggled to put any sort of gameplan together in the first half and their chances of steadying the ship were ruined when flanker Ryan Wilson was sent to the sin bin for some over-enthusiastic use of the boot. He was lucky not to see red, with referee Jaco Peyper letting him off only because he avoided his victim's face.

However, one can only imagine the shade of red Vern Cotter's face was at half-time. He will have been furious to see the headless-chicken act in front of him in the opening 40, and Scotland came out for the second half with a renewed sense of purpose.

That purpose? To kick for touch at every available opportunity. That failed to pay off once, twice, three times, before skipper Greig Laidlaw abandoned the plan to kick for the posts. It was what Scotland needed, to put points on the board, and the captain would eventually touch down for a decisive try with five minutes remaining. However, Cotter will have been concerned by the inability of his side to execute his plan of attack, while grateful that he has an operator such as Laidlaw to call on when all others are losing their heads.

The closing stages of the second half saw Scottish and Samoan bodies strewn across the pitch, with the likes of John Hardie, Richie Gray, and Maurie Fa'asavalu particularly battered and bruised. Scotland were able to close out the game thanks to Laidlaw's try, but only just. They face either Wales or Australia in the last eight. On the evidence of today, they'll be blown away within minutes against such high quality opposition. For Scotland, just being there remains a success.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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