Samoa take Islander bragging rights
Huw Baines at Eden Park
September 25, 2011
Samoa's George Stowers celebrates his try
© Getty Images
Samoa celebrated a gritty 27-7 victory over Fiji at Eden Park on Sunday, keeping their faint quarter-final hopes alive following one of the biggest occasions in Pacific rugby history.
With expectations at an all-time high, a full house bringing colour to every corner of the ground and organisers dubbing the game a 'symbol of the tournament' prior to kick-off, these great rivals produced a contest brimming with heart but sadly lacking in quality for long periods.
Samoa's dominance of the set-piece and greater control won the day, with their impressive halfback duo again to the fore. Scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i notched his side's opening try while fly-half Tusi Pisi was a steadying hand throughout, landing four penalties and a drop-goal. No.8 George Stowers crashed over for Samoa's second, while the tireless Netani Talei registered Fiji's only try in the second-half.
A tough assignment awaits Samoa on Friday, when they face Pool D leaders South Africa in Albany, while Fiji - whose hopes of a last eight spot have been dashed - will demand a better display against Wales in Hamilton on October 2.
Pisi opened his account with a fifth-minute penalty and Samoa were denied the opening try shortly after by a wonderful last-ditch tackle from Napolioni Nalaga, who was able to rip the ball from Sailosi Tagicakibau as the wing crashed over the line following a blindside dart from fullback Paul Williams.
Fiji were unable to stanch the flow of Samoan possession, however, and Pisi struck twice, first with another penalty and then with a crisp drop-goal, to procure a handy lead before the 15-minute mark. A third shot from the kicking tee then fell short of the uprights but preceded another scare for Fiji, who were made to wait for the TMO's ruling after halfback Nemia Kenatale had dawdled when dealing with a chip through from Alesana Tuilagi. The giant Leicester winger was shown to have had hands on the ball milliseconds after his rival had touched down in-goal.
Pisi made it a 12-point game with his third penalty after 26 minutes, shortly before Fiji's first real spell of possession ended with Sermaia Bai pushing a 40-metre penalty wide of the posts. His side's poor discipline and lack of attacking cohesion prevented the game developing into the arm-wrestle demanded by the capacity crowd and Pisi was all too happy to punt the ball into touch come half-time.
The Samoan fly-half was called into action again four minutes into the second period and made no mistake with his fourth penalty, secured thanks to a shuddering hit by Seilala Mapusua on Fijian fullback Kini Murimurivalu.
Talei finally provided some attacking impetus for Fiji as the clock ticked towards 50 minutes, but the Edinburgh back-rower's boisterous run was wasted as yet another set-piece - a five-metre scrum on this occasion - went south for Sam Domoni's side.
The game sparked into life, almost without warning, as some slick midfield passing allowed Tagicakibau room to attack the Fijian line, but the London Irish winger's charge was halted abruptly, allowing Nalaga a brief glimpse of a breakaway try before his footing went on the greasy surface.
Samoa defused the situation by winning a penalty at a lineout just outside the Fijian 22 but Pisi twice passed up the chance to add to his tally, producing a horror swipe from the tee and sending a drop-goal attempt wide of the sticks following a loose clearance by Gabirieli Lovobalavu.
His next action was considerably more effective as he provided the link play in the first try of the game. Samoa's scrum dominance paid off in the shadow of the Fijian posts, where Stowers combined with Pisi, who was felled short only for Fotuali'i to pick up the scraps and burrow over in the corner. The conversion was wide, leaving the scoreboard at 20-0 after 61 minutes.
Fiji's response was swift and effective. For the first time in the game, their midfield backs were able to attack the line at speed, with Lovobalavu carving through a gap to get his side on the front foot. The ball was worked across the line before the hard-working Talei found space to put his head down and crash across the whitewash.
The extras followed, from replacement fly-half Waisea Luveniyali, but Fiji's casual approach to the basics laid on an immediate riposte for Samoa, who struck off turnover ball to seal the game. Again Williams - named Man of the Match - provided the spark with a silky break and the Sale fullback had an easy task to put Stowers over in the corner.
Pisi's conversion was accurate but thoughts quickly turned to the safety of Samoan replacement Ti'i Paulo, who was caught in a double tackle and required lengthy on-field treatment after Stowers had quickly rushed in to remove the Clermont Auvergne hooker's mouthguard. The front-rower was able to get to his feet before leaving on a stretcher and play resumed with both sides hell-bent on a flying finish. Fiji came closest - Gloucester's Akapusi Qera knocking on in sight of the line and Rupeni Nasiga being stopped inches short - but the day was Samoa's.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Baines is a freelance rugby journalist