As Ryan Jones led his men out for a record 29th time, you couldn’t help but feel that this week the Welsh team looked far more resolved to put in an improved performance.
Yet it was Samoa, so often a side that troubles Wales and a team they only just managed to beat in the Rugby World Cup, that got off to the better start.
With crunching encounters in tackles already setting the tone for a physical match, it was the Samoan no. 8 Tai Tu’ifua that managed to burst through the missed tackles of the Welsh props to get in behind the Welsh defence. Quick ball from the breakdown then saw Samoa easily utilise their two man overlap to send Autagavaia over for the simplest of tries. Pisi converted.
As the game progressed Wales seemed a yard off the pace, yet managed to toil away to earn some long range penalties for fullback Halfpenny to slot over, helping to keep them in the game .
It was Samoa who looked to have any continuity to their play. Wales’ attacks inevitably went sideways. Samoa however time and again broke through tackles and were quickly marching their way up to Wales’ 22. A poorly judged long pass from Pisi, one of their few mistakes, saw centre Ashley Beck read the play perfectly to run in an intercept try. Halfpenny converted to give Wales a 13-7 lead that was against the run of play.
Fly half Biggar was making the most of his chance in the Welsh shirt, making good dinking runs and keeping the Samoan defence honest, yet the sheer energy and aggression Samoa were showing at the breakdown led to Wales coughing up possession far too often.
That energy and aggression took on an ugly note in an illegal challenge on Biggar. A Samoan player came flying into Biggar at a ruck, off his feet and leading with his shoulder. With blood pouring from his head and a clear injury to his shoulder, Biggar had to leave the field. It is astonishing to those watching the game that the Samoan player, Filo Paulo, wasn’t even penalised for such dangerous play.
It was a depressing end to the first half for Wales, when after another few phases of play Samoa earned another penalty, to go into the break only trailing by 13-10.
The second half saw the introduction of second row Charteris for Wales, Ian Evans having picked up a knee injury in the first half. The start also mirrored that of the first, with Samoa taking only six minutes to score a try, which was finished in a spectacularly acrobatic style by George Pisi. His brother Tusi Pisi missed with the conversion.
It then turned into a game of exchanged penalty kicks, Halfpenny being the only glimmer of light for Wales, yet going into the last ten minutes of the match, it was Samoa who were leading 21-19.
With a scrum going backwards since the introduction of Jenkins for James and a fast tiring Jarvis on the tight head side, Wales were on the back foot in every facet of the game. Bullied at the breakdown, worked out in the set piece and completely unimaginative in attack with what little ball they had, Wales could do nothing more but to try and soak up pressure. With a clever kick behind the Welsh defence it was up to Leigh Halfpenny to race back to try and ground the ball, but a slip on the greasy turf, and a cruel bounce of the ball saw it fall out of reach of Halpfenny’s grasping hands, for the chasing Leota to come running in and ground the ball.
A missed conversion offered Wales the chance of the draw but it was never looking likely. Out muscled, out played and simply out classed, Samoa saw themselves end the deserving victors.
Samoa have been a nation that have frequently troubled Wales, and with a victory over Australia in recent times to look to, they are quite clearly a side that is capable and very dangerous to play.
What will trouble Wales more is their sheer lack of energy and aggression. They were well beaten at the breakdown with the forwards struggling, and it left their backs with no platform to work from. With no impetus and speed to their game, their main crash ball attacking ploy failed, and it was made painfully clear that they had no other game plan to adapt to.
Samoa continue their progress of developing into a truly competitive team that should command the respect of all the so called top nations in world rugby. A word of caution does need to be uttered to them though in some aspects of their style of play. Whilst aggression and passion can be commended in rugby, some of their tackling and clear outs were clearly illegal and highly dangerous. The hit on Dan Biggar and the awful clear out by the neck of Ken Owen were two instances that left a very bitter taste in the mouth of this viewer.
Samoa have the skill and guile to compete in rugby without resorting to such tactics and it takes the shine off of what was otherwise an excellent performance from their team.
Full Time: Wales 19 – 26 Samoa
Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), A Beck (Ospreys), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); D Biggar (Ospreys), M Phillips (Bayonne); P James (Bath), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jarvis (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), I Evans (Ospreys), R Jones (capt), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: R Priestland (Scarlets) for Biggar (38), G Jenkins (Toulon) for James (61), K Owens (Scarlets) for Hibbard (18), S Andrews (Blues) for Jarvis (78), L Charteris (Perpignan) for Evans (41), S Warburton (Blues) for R Jones (71).
Not Used: Knoyle (Scarlets), S Williams (Scarlets).
Samoa: F Autagavaia (Northland); P Perez (Eastern Province), G Pisi (Northampton), P Williams (Stade Francais), D Lemi (Worcester, captain); T Pisi (Suntory), K Fotuali’i (Ospreys); S Taulafo (Wasps), O Avei (Bordeaux-Begles), C Johnston (Toulouse), D Leo (Perpignan), F Paulo (North Harbour), O Treviranus (London Irish), M Fa’asavalu (Harlequins), T Tuifua (Newcastle).
Replacements: J Leota (Sale) for Williams (56), J Sua (Tasman) for T Pisi (78), T Paulo (Clermont Auvergne) for Avei (58), J Johnston (Harlequins) for C Johnston (49), J Tekori (Castres) for F Paulo (60), T Foma’i (Haweke’s Bay) for Treviranus (70).
Not Used: V Afatia (Agen), R Lilomaiava (Laulii).