Rugby World Cup warm-up
Ill-disciplined Samoa fail to shine amid disarray of Olympic Stadium
Tom Hamilton
August 29, 2015
© Dan Mullan/Getty Images

It was rugby's first outing in the Olympic Stadium and it felt like a chaotic dress-rehearsal at times as the ground prepares to stage five World Cup matches. The game was always staged here to serve the purpose of a trial run and the stadium was exposed to unforeseen events and some irate fans.

It only took 16 minutes for the stadium's first red card to be brandished when Samoa lock Kane Thompson put his World Cup in jeopardy with a cheap shot on Saia Fainga'a. Eight minutes on and the under-soil sprinklers reared their jets for an impromptu 'water break'. Supporters also turned to social media to vent their unquenched rage at the difficulties of buying beer.

In the end, 14-man Samoa struggled to cope with their numerical disadvantage as they fell to the Barbarians 27-24. They will have learnt a number of lessons about their team cohesion but it was a valuable test with one more match to go before their World Cup opener against the USA on Sep. 20.

Samoa lacked a steady hand at fly-half with Tusi Pisi enduring an off-day and their set piece struggled. How they could have done with Dan Leo - now retired from international duty - to shore up the lineout. He watched it from the sidelines as he carried out punditry duties. Their shining light came at fullback in the form of Tim Nanai-Williams.

It is a stadium in transition. The memories of London 2012 that linger on the running track on the outskirts of the pitch were amplified by one of the stadium's favourite sons Mo Farah running to victory in Beijing a couple of hours before kick-off. There were signs of the past and future. As you walk through the mall a West Ham shop advertises memberships ahead of the club's arrival at Stratford in time for the 2016-17 football season. But perched in between the two milestones for this part of the world is the impending Rugby World Cup where five games will be played in the cauldron of the patchwork black and white seats.

That 41,039 people journeyed to the game is testament to the growing eagerness and anticipation for the forthcoming tournament. For one travelling viewer he dismissed it as a "secondary game" and only one to watch "because the rich bastards have snapped up all the good tickets" in the World Cup. But you sensed his view was a solitary one. Others were so excited they were taking great glee pulling faces into the concave windows of the tube ... eight stops away from Stratford.

© David Rogers/Getty Images

There are still a few oddities to iron out. Tickets had been sold for the press bench while just why they play 'God save the Queen' for the Barbarians when not one of them is British - the closest link in just name was Australian replacement Tom English - and the countdown before kick-off will get repetitive by about the fourth beat of the first game in the World Cup.

An atmosphere must be allowed to build organically but it was always going to struggle to reverberate in the vast cauldron of the stadium when you are so far removed from the field. Quite how West Ham will manage to replicate the claustrophobic imposing match day experience of the Boleyn Ground only they know.

But amid the squinting and the odd intake of breath and then noisy exhalation as players clattered into each other, Nanai-Williams was the standout player on the pitch. He kicked well from fullback, in his second Test, and was their main running threat with his diminutive stature offering a foil in the land of Samoa giants. He looks to be a rare talent and while they are without David Lemi for the World Cup, they have found their new evasive back.

© David Rogers/Getty Images

With the match short on field position with both teams preferring to run from deep, the Barbarians outscored Samoa five tries to three. Adam Thomston and Ben Tapuai scored in either half for the Barbarians with the latter's second a wonderful sweeping move that saw him score in the corner. Thomston's two tries were both from close range as was Liam Gill's 23rd minute score.

For Samoa, Nanai-Williams and Paul Perez made the clearest breaks of the game while Vavea Tuilagi lived up to his family name with some explosive physicality when he got his chance in the second-half. Their first try was a close range dive from Bristol prop Anthony Perenise while Ken Pisi's 34th minute try came after a grubber through from his Northampton team-mate Kahn Fotuali'i. Jack Lam also scored as he went over from close range. Despite attempting to rally late on, they finished with 13 men as Patrick Fa'apale saw yellow for a deliberate knock on.

The good news for Samoa is that they are in arguably the best off-field shape they have been in for years. The new agreement between the players and the union will hopefully see this World Cup campaign pass without any repeats of the off-field bitterness in 2011. But they must correct their ill-discipline and game management if they are to live up to their vast potential when the World Cup starts in three weeks.

© Tom Hamilton
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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