Nervous Wales hang on for victory
November 13, 2009
Leigh Halfpenny scored a first-half try for Wales
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Wales hung on for a nail-biting 17-13 victory over Samoa at the Millennium Stadium, where the visitors' passion nearly provided another chapter in a famous history of upsets.
A second-half interception try from London Irish centre Seilala Mapusua had hearts in mouths for Wales, whose error-strewn performance will have infuriated coach Warren Gatland.
Gatland had named a strong side in an attempt to right a poor run of form that has seen their try-scoring prowess evaporate. Following their narrow loss to the All Blacks last weekend the buzz-word this week was 'momentum' and Wales failed to garner any as their overwhelming possession and territorial advantage failed to yield any further reward than an early try to the excellent Leigh Halfpenny.
Dan Biggar and Sam Warburton also enjoyed productive games in canary-yellow, but the might of Henry Tuilagi and skipper George Stowers nearly threatened a repeat of Wales' World Cup defeats in 1991 and 1999.
The Samoans made an emotional return to the field just weeks after a devastating Tsunami ravaged their home, calling on a number of familiar faces from the Guinness Premiership and Top 14.
Following a fiery siva tau, Henry Tuilagi was hammered back by Gethin Jenkins. A sniping break by Biggar then set Wales on their way, with Dwayne Peel continuing the move with some soft hands to Warburton. The lanky openside was hauled down by the defence, with Samoa playing the ball on the floor to give away the first points to Biggar.
The Samoans' reputation as tough tacklers preceded them and as Biggar slotted the kick, fullback Lolo Lui was sent to the sin bin for a very late hit on Peel. Wales, messy at the kick-off, handed the points back immediately when and offside offence allowed fly-half Fa'atonu Fili to level the scores.
Nevertheless Wales threatened every time with ball in hand and Biggar elegantly crafted their try with some excellent vision. His arching cross-kick fell invitingly into the arms of Halfpenny, who caught David Lemi out of position and powered over in the corner.
Biggar followed up his kick with a wonderful looping pass to set first James Hook and then Tom Shanklin through the Samoan line. A penalty followed on the floor as Wales struggled to get to grips at the breakdown.
A misjudgement by Lemi, needlessly putting his side under pressure by taking the ball in to touch five metres out, handed Biggar another three points. Wales continued to dominate possession, but their lack of accuracy at the set-piece and breakdown continually allowed the visitors to release the pressure.
Biggar turned down a shot at goal when Tuilagi was pinged for playing the ball on the floor, going to the corner. There Wales again were their own worst enemies, conceding a truck and trailer penalty at the ensuing maul.
Warburton again found space with ball in hand, showing a good turn of pace to split the Samoan defence. The Cardiff Blues product let slip his inexperience in flicking the ball out of the back of his hand to concede possession and Samoa only narrowly failed to exploit an overlap.
Wales were breaking the line at will and a devastating step by Halfpenny looked to have sparked their second try. His inside pass found Hook only for Andy Tuilagi to level the fullback with a wonderful man and ball tackle.
After the break, Halfpenny kicked off proceedings with a superb 50 metre penalty before Wales skipper Ryan Jones was forced to scramble back behind his own line following a deft kick from Fili.
A Mexican Wave erupted among the 58,000 crammed inside the Millennium Stadium and it was easy to see why as the home side struggled against some increasingly negative play from Samoa at the breakdown. Referee Peter Fitzgibbon lost patience and brandished yellow to No.8 Henry Tuilagi, with Biggar extending the Welsh lead with the penalty.
From the kick-off some sublime handling in the Wales backline set Hook free along the blindside. A give and take between Roberts and Biggar opened the space for the fullback, who showed good pace to get clear. With Tom James haring up on his inside Hook chose to dummy and the ball was lost forward in the tackle.
Warburton was next to spurn a try-scoring chance as he spilled a simple offload following a trademark snipe from Peel. The openside redeemed himself with two instances of excellent support play, first providing an inside option following a pacy break from James and then driving his skipper on with some good strength in midfield.
As Wales hammered away at the Samoan defence, Mapusua gleefully accepted a miss-pass from Biggar and raced away to score under the sticks. The centre had badly dog-legged his line by darting out and Wales' lack of composure in assessing their options cost them dearly.
James again fashioned some space for Wales with a deft chip but pedestrian play in front of the defence led to yet another knock-on as the crowd became restless. Hook, his languid running game increasingly influential, then carved open Samoa from inside his own 22 but replacement centre Jonathan Davies chose the wrong option with a chip and Wales were again left wanting.
Mapusua was so close to sealing a surprise victory with a grubber for Uale Mai to chase, but the ball beat the replacement in to touch. The visitors were granted s simple penalty opportunity when Alun-Wyn Jones was pinged for offside, but Gavin Williams hooked his kick wide and missed the chance to bring Samoa to within a point.
Wales continued to self-destruct by allowing Lemi a chance to chip and chase, his progress only checked by a last-gasp intervention by Halfpenny. Samoa turned the screw at the scrum and forced Wales in to frantic defence as Henry Tuilagi drove for the line. A terrible pass from Junior Polu caused a knock on and Biggar gratefully cleared his lines.
Jones picked off the Samoan throw, allowing Peel to clear long and secure a victory that had threatened to become a humiliating defeat.
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