England battle past Samoa
November 19, 2010
England's Matt Banahan is held by the Samoa defence
© Getty Images
England secured back-to-back victories in the autumn internationals for the first time since 2004 with a hard-fought 26-13 victory over Samoa in their clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
Second-half tries from centre Matt Banahan and replacement flanker Tom Croft and 16 points from the boot of fly-half Toby Flood proved enough to see off a determined Samoan side who threatened to bring the hosts crashing back down to earth after the euphoria of last weekend's demolition of Australia. Fullback Paul Williams claimed a try and four penalties for the visitors with a late try from replacement Fautua Otto no less than they deserved for a battling display on a rare visit to England's HQ.
England began strongly but Samoa held their own and claimed the lead with Williams punishing the hosts after they had failed to roll away from the tackle on their own 22. And the fullback was involved again moments later with a strong run taking him deep into the England half where he was rewarded with another penalty. Referee Peter Fitzgibbon felt compelled to issue an early warning to England captain Nick Easter for his side's indiscretions but Williams was unable to land his latest chance from the kicking tee.
Errors continued to plague England's efforts to take charge of the game but when they did get it right they immediately stretched the visitors. A great angle from winger Chris Ashton carried him through the Samoan defensive line and a forward-looking pass then found its way to fellow speedster Mark Cueto who stepped inside before offloading to fullback Ben Foden, who was forced into touch as he stretched to touch the ball down for a try.
England did not shy away from the physicality of the contest and pressure at the scrum laid the foundation for their first score with Flood pulling his side level after the visitors had failed to roll away. Samoa had the chance to reclaim the lead a few minutes later after some good pressure had forced Cueto into an error inside his own half but Williams could only pull his latest effort wide of the posts.
England rallied once more and centre Shontayne Hape was at the heart of their most promising move of the half. A mazy run took the former New Zealand rugby league international up to the Samoa 22, where the ever-supportive Ashton loomed up on his shoulder, but the pop-pass was ruled forward. England continued to hammer away but having been frustrated they had to settle for a penalty from Flood.
Tempers flared soon after when England scrum-half Ben Youngs took offence to an offside infringement from Samoa's No.8 George Stowers with neither side needing an invite to join the argument. The reaction was no doubt the result of frustration on Youngs' part as he struggled to orchestrate proceedings in the same manner as he had done against Australia.
England continued to dominate and their growing confidence was evident when Flood opted to kick his next penalty into the corner for the lineout. Samoa had little answer to the catch and drive but they got enough bodies under the ball to avert the danger - but only temporarily. England turned the screw at the resulting scrum but their decision to spin the ball back-fired with a crunching tackle by Samoa's Seilala Mapusua on Cueto knocking the ball from the winger's grasp. Samoa's defence were kept busy as the half drew to a close but time and time again they had sufficient controlled aggression to shackle their hosts.
Samoa stunned England following the restart with their first ever try at Twickenham. Hape found himself isolated in midfield and the turnover was pounced upon by replacement Joe Tekori who was eventually hauled down just short of the line. But the ball was recycled and worked wide through fly-half Tasesa Lavea and Williams who capitalised on some lazy defence to cross for the first try of the game. The fullback could not add the extras but the visitors had the lead.
But the score sparked England into life. Hape was once again the instigator for England with another strong run creating the opening and he found support in Ashton who drew the cover defence before slipping the ball back inside to Banahan who coasted in for his fourth Test try. Flood's conversion extended their lead and he gave his side a little more breathing room with his third penalty shortly after.
England stepped up their efforts in the hope of putting some daylight between the sides and while their increased intensity had Samoa on the back foot they struggled to pick a hole in their well-organised defence. And when they opted to shelve their expansive intentions in favour of a shot at the posts, Flood's effort went astray.
The crowd were on their feet as the game entered the final quarter with Foden scything through at pace. The impressive Cueto joined the attack with a timely burst down the touchline and when he ran out of room he popped the ball inside to Banahan who crashed over for what appeared to be a try only to see it ruled out for a foot in touch.
Despite racking up an energy-sapping tackle count the Samoans found enough in reserve to trouble an England defence disrupted by the usual raft of replacements. But the hosts recovered their composure to drive down field where tired legs and minds gifted Flood his next penalty.
And the hosts put further gloss on the scoreboard as the game entered the final ten minutes with an intercept from Banahan the key. The 6ft 7in centre plucked the ball out of the air near the touchline before finding replacement scrum-half Danny Care with a delightful offload. The fleet-footed No.9 then took the game into the Samoa 22 before feeding replacement flanker Croft for a simple score that was converted by Flood with a drop-goal.
Successive penalties against England handed Samoa a chance to have the final say and Stowers capitalised on the great field position with a superb chip and claim but a last-ditch tackle from Croft dislodged the ball as he looked to touch it down. But they were not to be denied with a late turnover worked wide to replacement Otto who dived over in the corner to ensure his side ended the game on a high note.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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