Samoa shock Wallabies
July 17, 2011
Samoa's Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu celebrates his side's victory over Australia in Sydney
© Getty Images
Samoa claimed the biggest upset in their history with a 32-23 victory over Australia in their clash at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
Tries from winger Alesana Tuilagi, fullback Paul Williams, lock Kane Thompson and centre George Pisi carried the visitors to their first-ever victory over the Wallabies that eclipses their famous Rugby World Cup triumphs over Wales in 1991 and 1999. The assured kicking of fly-half Tusi Pisi steered the Islanders home but it was a committed defensive display and their usual bruising physical presence that enabled them to erase the memory of their 74-7 mauling in their last meeting at the same venue six years ago.
Winger Digby Ioane and No.10 Matt Giteau crossed for the hosts but the world's No.2 ranked side were made to pay for fielding an under-strength side and could have no complaints after being out-muscled and out-played for the vast majority of the game. The result is set to serve as a reality check to Australian rugby just a week after the Reds' Super Rugby triumph and six days before their Tri-Nations opener against South Africa.
Samoa began with real intent and were rewarded for their early endeavour with a penalty and a great strike from Pisi gave the visitors a deserved lead. Australia countered immediately and drew a penalty of their own inside Samoa's 22 which was kicked to the corner in a clear statement of their intent. The Samaon defence held firm at the first lineout but a strong drive from Wallabies skipper Nathan Sharpe forced an opening off the next only for the ball to be lost.
Australia were not deterred and continued to pepper the visitors' line but the aggressive Samoan defence ensured it was they who kept the scoreboard ticking over. Wallabies flanker Matt Hodgson got isolated in midfield and Samoa's Seilala Mapusua pounced on the loose ball before flicking it through his legs to Tuilagi. The in-form winger then sped down the line unopposed before brushing off the tackle of Giteau on his way to the line. Pisi added the extras to continue his side's perfect start and give Samoa a 10-point lead just short of the quarter hour.
Samoan pressure at the breakdown, in open play and in the air continued to trouble the hosts but their enthusiasm cost them with Mapusua harshly penalised for a big tackle on Giteau. The questionable call allowed the Wallabies' fly-half take the game deep inside the Samoa half but as they closed in on the line, winger Rod Davies failed to take a pass under intense pressure from Tuilagi.
Australian continued to back their running game when afforded penalties but they continually failed to make that decision pay with Samoa's impressive work-rate forcing crucial turnovers. As a result it was no surprise to see Giteau point at the posts after the Wallabies' scrum earned their side a penalty 45m out but he pulled the difficult chance wide of the posts.
Samoa's breakdown prowess soon brought further joy. Mapusua threaded a chip kick through the Wallabies' defence and although debutant scrum-half Nick Phipps was there to tidy up, his clearance kick was charged down by Williams who was able to chase down the loose ball to touch down for the try. Tusi Pisi's excellent game with the boot continued with another notable conversion.
A monster hit from Tuilagi on the Wallabies' Mark Gerrard hammered home the Samoan's dominance but referee Marius Jonker was beginning to lose patience with some of their methods. Australia's scrum looked their best bet for gaining a foothold in the game and a stable set piece and a series of pick and drives took them close before Samoa lost lock Daniel Leo to a yellow card for playing the ball in the ruck. The Wallabies' pack turned the screw at the next scrum and Ioane was able to coast through with ease for a score as the defence rushed up. Giteau slotted the simple conversion to bring his side back into the game just before the break and he added a penalty after the hooter to give the scoreboard a little more gloss.
Australia set about reducing the arrears yet further after the re-start with an early offside infringement allowing Giteau to land his second penalty of the game. But back came Samoa with Mapusua and Pisi and carving an opening but No.8 George Stowers was unable to take the ball cleanly as his side surged towards the line.
Stowers had better luck holding onto the ball moments later when he found himself in open space out wide after some excellent handling had created another opening. The ball was then worked back inside to Thompson and the lock gleefully galloped over for his side's third try of the game with the Wallabies' defence splintered again. Pisi blotted his copybook with a wayward conversion.
Samoa soon went looking for more as Australia opted to inject some fresh legs in flanker Beau Robinson and lock Dan Vickerman but neither could do little about the visitors' next score. A cross kick from Tusi Pisi found Tuilagi out wide and he injected some pace down the touchline before kicking ahead. Phipps struggled to secure the ball and Samoa powered through in numbers with George Pisi awarded the try by the Television Match Official before Tusi Pisi added the conversion.
The Wallabies immediately threw fullback Kurtley Beale and scrum-half Will Genia into the action and it had a positive effect with Giteau's third penalty offering hope of a turnaround. But the relief was only temporary with only some desperate defence keeping Samoa out a few minutes later. They may have protected their line but Tusi Pisi was still able to restore his side's 16-point lead from the kicking tee.
Australia showed signs of life with some superb work from replacement Scott Higginbotham proving the catalyst. The No.8's footballing skills took him past Tuilagi outwide and he showed great strength to weather a couple of tackle before throwing the ball inside to Giteau who claimed the ball off his laces before scampering over the line. The Wallabies' fly-half added the extras to leave his side trailing by nine points with ten minutes remaining.
The heavens opened as Australia piled forward again but crunching tackles from Mapusua on Beale and Tuilagi on Davies helped snuff out the move and Australia's last hope of saving the game.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.