In the sweltering heat of the Samoan afternoon, the hosts came out flying, showing the capacity home crowd – who were hanging off girders, standing on walls, squeezing into every available space – their skills. Scotland’s tackling was up to it in the early encounters but you feared if it was Scotland defending all afternoon in those conditions, then the hosts would always come out stronger.
Where Fiji had lacked finesse, Samoa with ball in hand were displaying it, spinning the ball wide or cross-field kicking and letting their backs have plenty one-on-one opportunities. Paul Williams at 12 and highly rated playmaker Tusi Pisi at 10 were working well to unleash their wide men. Away from contact they were flying, but again the ferocity of tackling and breakdown work from Rennie and Strokosch was at best forcing turnovers and at worst making a mess of Samoan ball.
Scotland showed early dominance in the scrum and largely held Samoa at bay. But when Samoa broke into the Scotland 22 with about 20 minutes gone, Pisi slotted a drop goal that signalled his intent and sent the home crowd wild. As if in response, Matt Scott burst up the field from the ensuing restart and great support from Cusiter and Rennie saw Gray given the ball within charging distance of a score. From the ensuing pile-up, Ansbro – in for Nick De Luca who had failed a late fitness test – sneaked over the line, and Laidlaw converted.
Scotland couldn’t settle though, as Samoa came back at them, concentrating on the breakdown and earning a penalty. Pisi slotted it – as in Lautoka the weekend before, kicking conditions were near perfect – and the score till half time stayed 7-6. This was going to be a close one; Samoa were playing with structure and pace, as we had feared they might.
Both sides might have had more after a very strong series of pick and drives from Samoa pack in the Scotland 22 was saved by a Ford interception – although had he looked left, he might have seen Visser waiting to be unleashed. Visser had another chance minutes later but the score was called back for a knock on that referee Peyper seemed to have indicated had gone backwards. Minutes later Samoa too had a try chalked off for a knock on that might have been dubious (it looked like a Scotland foot); karma even.
In the second half Stuart Hogg announced his presence in the game but possibly not as he would have hoped, giving Samoa a penalty for holding on. Hogg had a quiet first half as along with his back 3 companions Lamont and Visser. Generally they sputtered in attack, but misfired.
Pisi kicked the goal and Samoa regained the lead. They didn’t slacken off either, with Williams creating great chances in the midfield. Blair came on for Cusiter, possibly not in an attempt to raise the tempo Samoa were setting, but neither to resist it.
It seemed to pay dividends almost straight away: with Blair carving through the retreating Samoan pack from a quick tap penalty supported by Ansbro and Laidlaw, the Samoans were penalised at the following breakdown. Laidlaw restored the lead to Scotland.
The increased pace brought Hogg, Visser and Lamont into the game too and as Pisi missed a penalty attempt, Scotland seemed to be living with it despite the heat and humidity.
Scotland’s scrum had held all game, but when it did at last crumble, Samoa pinched the ball against the head and Williams and Pisi did as they had all afternoon, linking beautifully in midfield for a try that Pisi converted to make the score 16-10.
Samoa were boosted by replacements including lock Joe Tekori, and Robinson too refreshed his side ahead of what was looking like a crucial final quarter, giving Harley (on for Vernon) and Scott Lawson (for Ford) a chance for a decent run out, and Harley his first cap.
If it was to be a close finish, Scotland needed fresh legs. Gray obviously had plenty left in the tank as Scotland started using him as a crash ball centre to good effect, while Kellock went off for Ryder not long after. I’m not sure who was the captain by that point – Blair presumably – but he had one objective: get a try.
Samoa themselves could have had another try after they pounced on a ball spilled by Visser, who was this time saved rather than denied by the assistant ref. Scotland built the phases and earned a penalty for offside. They opted for the scrum, confident in their set piece.
However just like Scotland fans in Newcastle, every successful tackle sent the Samoan fans wild and confidence grew. When they sustained a Scotland attack that probed all across the park with hammering runs from Gray, Visser and the once again exceptional Ross Rennie, they clearly sensed a famous victory if they could keep Scotland out.
Scotland of course were also on the hunt for a famous victory to complete a 3-3 winning test series in the Southern Hemisphere and were not in quitting mood just yet.
While Samoa were killing time, Munster style with pick and goes, and making mess of any scrum they could, Scotland were in the hunt for a try but were being slowly stifled. Hands on hips, their time seemed to be up.
With one last penalty (or so it seems) Blair again took a quick tap, set up a simple ruck and a one out pass to Harley who couldn’t believe his luck to go in under the posts. Laidlaw would never miss that kick, but there was still time for a restart for Samoa which they gathered.
But Scotland stole the ball. From the scrum they were awarded, Laidlaw hoofed it into touch to seal the victory. A straightforward end to a far from straightforward match.
Scottish Rugby Blog Man of Match: Tusi Pisi (Samoa), with an honourable mention to Ross Rennie and whoever got us some footage of the match to watch.
You can watch the whole game here.