RWC 2019 Pool Game 18: Scotland bounce back to smash off-key Samoa

Scotland needed something tangible to cling to after the listless effort against Ireland in their opening pool game, and they got exactly what they were looking for with a 34-0 bonus-point win over Samoa in hot and sticky Kobe last night to get their World Cup campaign back on track.

But they were given a serious leg-up by a Samoan side that were well below-par on the night, and offered nothing like the attacking threat they had produced against Russia. That was in part due to a vastly-improved effort from Scotland’s defence, but in truth, they had very few punches thrown their way to contend with.

Discipline was an issue again for Samoa, two yellow cards for winger Ed Fidow ending in red for him, and also the awarding of a penalty try for both incidents to help the Scots towards a bonus point that could prove to be vital.

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Under-fire Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend made five changes to the team that went down so meekly to the Irish. And it was one of the newcomers, highly-rated winger Darcy Graham, who got to stretch his legs for the first time after just a couple of minutes, carving a path into the opposition half and unintentionally sending Jack Lam off for an HIA after the Samoan captain got his head on the wrong side and met Graham’s hip in the tackle.

With Finn Russell calling the shots at flyhalf Scotland continued to pose all the early questions, and when Samoa were pinged for playing a man without the ball, Greig Laidlaw opened the scoring off the boot.

Handling errors cruelled the attack of both sides in the opening exchanges as the Scots looked to run from everywhere, and Samoa tried to shift it early to the edges for their dynamic wingers. But as with most of the games thus far, the humidity – and a closed roof at Kobe Misaki Stadium – were rendering the Gilbert ball with the same adhesion qualities of a bar of soap.

Good news came for Samoa with the return of skipper Lam having passed his checks, but as the game ticked into the second quarter they were yet to get the ball anywhere near the Scottish 22. It was he who led the way with a carry right up the middle, backed up by a couple more direct runs to finally reach the red zone, only for fine work over the ball from Jamie Richie to earn possession back for Scotland.

Enjoying the majority of possession but failing to get beyond four phases when they had it, Scotland stuck it up their jumpers for their next assault, driving a lineout maul a good 20-30 metres before Samoa scrambled to clear. But when they were awarded a penalty out wide, the quick-thinking Russell tapped it to play on immediately before putting up a crossfield kick for Sean Maitland to gather and see off Tusi Pisi to find the line.

Laidlaw added the extras to open up a 10pt lead on the half hour, but the veteran halfback was on hand to garner greater reward with his side’s second five-pointer just a couple of minutes later.

Russell kick-started matters with a dummy and line break before offloading to the supporting Richie. But when the flanker then sent Laidlaw – not a no.9 blessed with raw speed – into space, he probably wasn’t the man you wanted with open field in front. He seemed to realise that himself as he looked to offload back infield rather than pin the ears back. But as he got caught in traffic while he deliberated his next move, the cover tackle of Samoan fullback Tim Nanai-Williams inadvertently propelled him back towards the line and over.

Just to cap off what had turned into a very profitable first half for the Scots without them ever reaching the higher gears of their game, the resurgence of the field goal in this tournament continued in fine fashion when fullback Stuart Hogg took aim from 45 metres out, and the ball sailed through the uprights to make it 20-0 at the break.

The game didn’t improve much as a spectacle after the restart. Scotland were looking to exert some control and chance their arm if the opportunity arose in search of a bonus point, and Samoa needing to chase the game before it left them behind, but with body language that didn’t exactly suggest they were about to light the touch paper anytime soon.

The Scots missed a chance for a third on 53 minutes, shifting it wide from a scrum after winning a penalty at the previous engagement and opting to maintain the rage. But when Russell fired it wide for the pacy Graham to try and find the corner, his radar was off and the ball sailed into touch instead.

Going back to basics they drove a lineout from their next attack, replacement hooker Fraser Brown over the chalk but failing to ground after a TMO referral. But the replay also confirmed that defender Ed Fidow was offside when he piled in to help hold the ball up, and his side suffered the double whammy of a penalty try and a yellow card for the winger.

A man down and with resistance waning by the minute, Samoa were ripe for the picking with a quarter remaining. And Scotland should have had their bonus point when prop Gordon Reid tried to find the base of a post from a metre after his fellow forwards had rumbled their way into striking position through the pick and drive. But a stray Samoan boot – unseen by the officials – knocked the ball from his hands just as his eyes were lighting up at the prize of a World Cup five-pointer.

The Pacific Islanders woke from their attacking torpor with 10 to go, suddenly throwing bodies into the breakdown to create quicker ruck ball, and with the passes beginning to stick to get them inside the red zone. But their night was encapsulated when they won a penalty, opted for the lineout, and replacement flyhalf Ulupano Seuteni kicked the ball dead in-goal trying to chew off too many metres.

That was the cue for Scotland to up the ante with time running out, and they were soon knocking on the door at the other end after forcing a turnover on halfway and shifting it to the edge. Neat hands from Russell and centre Chris Harris sent Maitland scampering down the touchline, but as the winger dived for the corner he was buffered into touch by the sliding Fidow before he could find the line.

However, a closer look at Fidow’s tackle confirmed that he had used his knees to make contact, and after consultation with his fellow officials, referee Pascale Gauzere showed a second yellow, and subsequent red to the winger, and ran under the posts to signal another penalty try.

Job done, Scotland shut down the remaining minutes to see out the all-important bonus-point win and reignite their tournament hopes. But while credit must be given for the way they responded to the Ireland debacle, particularly the defensive effort to hold Samoa scoreless, I’m not convinced that the overall performance would have caused many spines to shiver in the Japanese camp. They won comfortably, but they were allowed to by a very, very disappointing Samoan display.

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SCOTLAND 34 (Two Penalty Tries, Sean Maitland, Greig Laidlaw tries; Greig Laidlaw 2 cons, pen, Stuart Hogg dg) defeated SAMOA 0 () HT 20-0 at Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe

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