Samoa levels matters with victory in Nadi
By Vela Naucukidi
Samoa tightened up their defence and came back strongly in the second spell to spoil Fiji’s weekend, triumphing 22-12 at Prince Charles Park and going top of the Oceania qualifiers for next year’s World Cup.
If both teams beat Tonga in their home matches, the rankings will be decided on points difference. Tonga can still top the group if they win their last two games with big margins.
Fiji scored first when Vilimoni Delasau touched down in the corner after half an hour, then led 5-3 at the break.
Two tries from Hurricanes wing Lome Fa’atau and another from prop forward Tamato Leupolu swung the game drastically in Samoa’s favour before a late try from Joseph Narruhn put Fiji into double figures.
Samoa coach John Boe said the same pattern had happened in Tonga last weekend when they came back after trailing in the first 40 minutes to win the game.
"The boys had a good composure in the second half and Fiji played their hearts out. They never gave up trying to score in the final minute," Mr Boe said. "I wish them well in the game against the All Blacks as we are part of the islands and we are family."
The defeat gave Fiji coach Mac McCallion a broader picture of where his team stand before the big clash against the All Blacks next weekend.
Former sevens rep Lome Fa’atau scored another brace to add to the two he picked up last week against Tonga.
For opening half hour, it was just solid defence and desperate attacks as both teams struggled to put points on the board. Fiji lost balls in the line-outs and turned over ball in the rucks and mauls while Samoa looked faster at the breakdown.
Mr Boe said that the match was more physical and harder than the game in Apia.
"It was quite a match. But in Samoa, there was only a one-point difference."
Samoa closed Fiji down on most occasions in the first half as they spent extended periods in the Fiji 22, but Fiji’s defence held on, preventing them from crossing the try line.
Star winger Delasau put Fiji ahead in the 31st minute after Nicky Little had saved Fiji from danger with a deep kick. Isaac Mow gave a good chase to stop Fa’atau in the Samoan 22 and from the ensuing line-out Delasau dotted down in the corner after a little chip through.
Three minutes later, Earl Va’a narrowed the gap with a successful penalty when Alfred Uluinayau was penalised for not releasing the ball when the Fiji support was slow.
In the 48th minute, after four consecutive scrums skipper Greg Smith was carried off the field with an ankle injury and Isaia Rasila went in as replacement.
In the 50th minute, Fa’atau scored the first of his two tries to put Samoa into the lead and Va’a added another two points with the conversion.
Fifteen minutes later, Leupolu scored a pushover try from a strong forward drive to put Samoa in a comfortable position. And in the 76th minute, Fa’atau added another five-pointer to further the lead.
Deep into injury time, Narruhn scored a converted try to end the match.
Mr McCallion, disappointed with the result, said Fiji lost it in all departments and were out-muscled everywhere.
"We didn’t play at all, we struggled at line-outs, scrum time and there was no forward ball for the backs," he said, adding that Samoa were dominant in the scrums and line-outs as the tight five were out-muscled.
"I was disappointed with the result but we hung in there. I thought we still could pull something out of the bag, but when we lost Greg, that hurt us as we need direction."
"It looks like we’ll miss him again next weekend."
The Fiji team will leave at 5am Sunday morning for New Zealand where they face the All Blacks in Wellington next weekend.