Samoa had a lively start to this vital tie at St James Park in Newcastle, showing an attacking intent aimed at restoring pride and playing some better rugby than they have thus far.
Scotland on the other hand ran Matt Scott right into burly Samoan defenders where he was promptly turned over and not long after Tusi Pisi slotted the first points for Samoa.
Scott found some ground on his next attempts but Samoan tackling was fierce and the men in navy struggled to retain possession. Luckily the set piece was solid, with Dickinson getting the upper hand on Census Johnstone and Laidlaw kicking the points to draw level.
From there Samoa came right back at Scotland with worrying ease, slipping past tacklers to put Pisi over in the corner. The Scots at least didn’t look phased and were soon forcing Samoa deep into their own half, when Seymour batted the ball free from a loose pass and regathered to score with typical opportunism.
The Scots defence was at fault again though as Samoa began a period of breathless tit-for-tat scoring and it wasn’t until Pisi missed his first conversion that the crowd could breathe after 10 minutes of madness.
And it continued.
Whenever lines were set or play was restarted, the Scots benefited from Samoan indiscipline. Whenever it was fast and loose, Scotland looked in trouble as the Samoan passes all stuck and the Scots were for the first time looking unsure of their systems.
So it was when Lee-Lo dotted down in the corner (despite Scottish protestations of a knock on), and again when they almost scored before half time. Laidlaw was hauled away from his defensive position off the ball which meant the score was knocked off.
In between that, Scotland went down to fifteen men as Ryan Wilson lashed out with his foot and was lucky not to get a red, despite being held. The set-piece also rescued Scotland on the scoreboard with a Hardie try from the lineout, showing the way for the second half lay in structure, not madness.
HT Samoa 26-23 Scotland
Unfortunately it was more of the same in the second half as the Scots tried to obtain dominance with lineout drives and scrums, while the Samoans unsettled them with big hits and pounced on any technical errors to make big gains in territory.
An increasing amount of mauls came unstuck as the Samoans grew in confidence, but the scrum was still holding firm and gave Laidlaw the first chance for points. It was almost disappointing that the first ten minutes saw only 3 points scored by either team.
Wilson had a great break that almost made up for his earlier brainfart, but the passes didn’t stick, however Nel was down into the maul like a warthog and Laidlaw kicked the points to give Scotland the lead. He almost knocked another one over minutes later, and missed a second, easier one on the hour mark as the Samoan penalty count increased.
But it had, to Scotland’s credit, started to look like a more normal rugby match. Perhaps less exciting for the neutral, but easier on our blood pressure. Scotland were able to build phases, with Nel and Gray big figures in the pack but out wide Russell didn’t quite have the space for a bit of magic that could open the game up.
Maitland and Bennett looked almost surprised when they got the ball, but Scotland looked to be in the ascendancy as the benches emptied despite just a narrow 3 point lead.
With just over ten to play there was another spell of crazyball as Finn finally found a gap and Maitland streaked through, but from there the Samoans snatched the ball and made it deep into the Scotland half before the Scots were awarded a penalty.
Hogg, who’d struggled with cramp as he had against South Africa, came off to allow Sean Lamont a 100th cap and ten minutes to try and get that vital win in the bag.
It was the other end of the team sheet that came closer, as WP Nel barrelled over but was adjudged held up, but Scotland were keeping it in the right part of the pitch and the Samoans continued to infringe although Peyper showed no signs of a yellow card appearing from his pocket.
When Laidlaw was offered a penalty under the sticks, he took the scrum and when it splintered under Scottish pressure, found the space to dart round the back and stretch out for possibly the most important try he’ll score for Scotland, and vindicating his choice.
Given the first half, there was always a chance of something instant from Samoa narrowing the lead and ratcheting up the tension for the final five minutes, and so it was with a try on their very next attack on the Scotland line putting hearts in mouths and harking back to RWC 2007 and the test in Apia which was similarly close. In the end Laidlaw rallied his men, played some Munster keep-ball and booted it into the stands the very second he could get away with it.
It wasn’t a pretty game if you are Vern Cotter or any of the Scotland coaches, but for the neutrals there were plenty of tries, plenty of drama and some big hits.
For us, Scotland are in the quarter finals.
SRBlog Man of the Match: WP Nel was huge in the scrum, carried and tackled like a slightly biltong flavoured Braveheart and Hardie put in another massive shift, but Greig Laidlaw kicked a bucketload of points then finished a huge call with his own try. If he hadn’t scored it would have been a different story but he captained the second half superbly.