Wales battle past Samoa
September 18, 2011
Shane Williams is wrapped up by two Samoan defenders
© Getty Images
Wales winger Shane Williams scored a crucial second-half try to give Wales a 17-10 victory over Samoa in a bruising Pool D encounter in Hamilton.
Samoa, World Cup conquerors of Wales in 1991 and 1999, threatened a hat-trick until Williams poached his 55th Test try 13 minutes from time. It got Wales out of jail and means they are likely to progress from Pool D if they win their remaining fixtures against Namibia and Fiji.
But Wales' performance was far from the standard they hit in pushing world champions South Africa to the brink of defeat last weekend, albeit hindered by injuries to full-back James Hook (shoulder) and flanker Dan Lydiate (ankle). Hook kicked two penalties before he departed at half-time, while fly-half Rhys Priestland also found his range twice to thwart a Samoan side that created more clear-cut attacking opportunities.
Bath-bound prop Anthony Perenise crossed for the South Sea Islanders just before half-time, with full-back Paul Williams adding a conversion and penalty, but Wales did just enough. And the win keeps them on course for a potential last-eight clash against Ireland in Wellington on October 8.
Wing Williams, Wales' record international try-scorer, finished off a 70-metre move sparked by the invention and creativity of Hook's replacement Leigh Halfpenny. And the score gave Wales critical breathing space when Samoa pushed relentlessly during the closing minutes, securing a win that will not live long in the memory.
Samoa's first attack almost produced a try when scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i made headway but wing Sailosi Tagicakibau wasted a golden opportunity.
It was an early warning for Wales, and Samoa went close again when their Ospreys-bound number eight George Stowers threatened the opposition line. Hook, though, slotted an 11th-minute penalty after Lydiate had limped off to be replaced by Andy Powell, but Wales blew a glorious chance when lock Luke Charteris threw a forward pass to unmarked centre Jamie Roberts.
Wales grew into the game, and Roberts left his calling card by smashing through opposite number Seilala Mapusua, leaving the Samoan skipper groggy on the turf. Hook's opposite number Paul Williams hauled Samoa level through a 35-metre penalty, but Hook then restored a three-point lead for Wales after Priestland missed an easy drop-goal chance.
Wales threatened to turn the screw in terms of territory, yet they were also guilty of concentration lapses that allowed Samoa another opportunity, with flanker Maurie Fa'asavalu gaining a try-scoring chance that he narrowly failed to convert. Paul Williams missed a penalty as half-time approached but Samoa finished the opening 40 minutes on top, with Wales forced into some last-ditch defending.
And they could not stop Perenise powering over for a try following several attacking phases, and Williams' conversion left Wales with plenty to ponder during the half-time break, 10-6 adrift.
Gatland made a half-time switch, sending on Halfpenny for an injured Hook, and Priestland landed his first penalty when his long-range strike bounced over via the crossbar. It was just the start Wales needed as they looked to claw their way back into contention, only for Priestland to make a blunder when he kicked out on the full from outside his own 22.
Wales could not afford such basic errors, and Samoa fed off their nervousness, before an opportunist Priestland kick almost saw centre Jonathan Davies prosper, but the bounce eluded him. And approaching the end of the third quarter, Wales still trailed by a point, their quarter-final hopes hanging by a thread.
Priestland then hauled Wales in front 15 minutes from time with an angled penalty, before Williams danced across and gave Wales breathing space. Halfpenny attacked from inside his own half, Davies acted as the linkman, then Williams finished off for a 17-10 advantage, with Priestland missing the touchline conversion attempt.
Samoa fought back, camping inside Wales' 22, but a great steal by No.8 Toby Faletau on his own line gave Wales breathing space and they successfully closed out the final minutes.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September