8 Oct 2023

Rugby World Cup 2023: Samoa lose close game against England

10:20 am on 8 October 2023
Samoa's scrum-half Melani Matavao (2ndL) runs with the ball past England's lock Ollie Chessum during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between England and Samoa at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, near Lille, northern France on October 7, 2023. (Photo by Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP)

Samoa's scrum-half Melani Matavao runs with the ball past England's lock Ollie Chessum during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between England and Samoa at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Villeneuve-d'Ascq. Photo: AFP / SAMEER AL-DOUMY

Manu Samoa led all the way until the 74th minute against England, before going down 17-18 in Lille on Sunday morning.

With six minutes to go and having stopped England from scoring a try despite three scrum feeds in front of their posts, the Samoan defence, with one man down, finally crumbled as replacement halfback Danny Care ran in untouched under the uprights.

It proved to be the difference on the scoreline in the end, although Manu Samoa almost scored towards the end of the game after another counter-attack that went the length of the field.

Double try-scorer Nigel Ah Wong told media after the game they were disappointed.

"We are very disappointed," Ah Wong said.

"We came in with the goal tonight to make history, to try and be the first Samoan team to beat England. The boys are disappointed and we probably let ourselves down. It's probably the common thing over the last few games like a lot of discipline and handling errors as well.

"I thought today was much better. It was just the lack of discipline in the end that lets us down."

Ah Wong scored two tries in the first half when Samoa dominated and held their own against the former Rugby World Cup champions.

They had two more tries ruled out by the Television Match Official.

Owen Farrell and Lima Sopoaga exchanged penalties before England had two tries of their own ruled out by the TMO.

Samoa's players perform the Siva Tau war dance ahead of the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between England and Samoa at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, near Lille, northern France on October 7, 2023. (Photo by Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP)

Samoa's players perform the Siva Tau war dance. Photo: AFP / SAMEER AL-DOUMY

Man of the Match and fly-half Lima Sopoaga was named the Mastercard Player of the Match.

He directed his backline well and although missing a couple of touchfinders, a penalty and a conversion, generally had a good game.

He said they had a tough tournament and added he was proud of the team.

"It has been a disappointing couple of weeks, we felt we just didn't give the jersey the justice it deserved," Sopoaga said.

"Tonight I'm proud, we didn't come away with the chocolates but we left it all out there and that's all that anyone can ask. I'm incredibly proud of the boys, just a little bit disappointed and just gutted for Samoa and all our fans and supporters."

"I guess a call here and there, a mistake here and there and at the highest level you'll pay. That's a quality England team, they hung in there and they got over the line in the end.

"But I am incredibly proud of the team and what we tried to give out there. We were down early and we kept fighting and unfortunately it just wasn't our day today."

Samoan captain Michael Alaalato'a said it was a game they should have won.

Samoa's flanker Alamanda Motuga (C) is tackled during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between England and Samoa at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, near Lille, northern France on October 7, 2023. (Photo by Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP)

Samoa's flanker Alamanda Motuga is tackled. Photo: AFP / SAMEER AL-DOUMY

"Really disappointed. Lost for words really around the way the result went but that's the game we were looking for this whole World Cup," he said.

"We've shown in glimpses what we can do and tonight we put in an 80-minute performance that we can be proud of. Immensely proud of my boys, we left it all out there and we did everything we could to win that game.

"Some of the England players said themselves that it's the toughest game they've had so far. It's good to know that as well.

Samoan head coach Vaovasamanaia Seilala Mapusua asked whether referees have a bias against Pacific teams and Tier-One nations, after he was disappointed with some calls.

He said his side has done their best and was hopeful more could be done to help close the gap.

"We have guys playing in the Premiership and the Top 14. Maybe the referees need more time with our guys," he told the media.

"Do referees have an unconscious bias? When you throw all our guys in the same-coloured jersey, we need more exposure. I believe there had been in the past, it's what I've seen from when I was playing.

"That was a tough one. If I'm being honest, my heart breaks for these boys. I thought they deserved a lot more. We did enough to earn victory. Such is the cruel nature of sport, it wasn't to be."

"There is a lot to have a look at in terms of getting here - once we were here, it's not a coincidence that we're playing our best by the fourth game. We seriously need to look at our programme, the exposure we can get to these tough matches against tier-one teams. There's a lot of work to do, but we'll look at tomorrow tomorrow.

"A lot of it has to do with where we finish at the World Cup. I've always thought there's been a case [for that] but unfortunately performance is not enough. But there's enough to show we can be competitive at this level against teams like England."

England applaud Samoa

Both England coach Steve Borthwick and captain Owen Farrell applauded Samoa's performance.

"My first thoughts are what a performance for Samoa, I thought they were absolutely incredible today, put us under enormous pressure, that is a huge credit to them," Borthwick said.

"For us, it was scrappy, we made a lot of errors and there were periods where we didn't play within our system. That put us under an awful lot of pressure. There are some huge learnings and it was a tough test for next week."

Farrell said it was scrappy on their part.

"It didn't feel like the best from us but all credit has to go to Samoa, the way they came out and fired shots at us tonight was tough to deal with at times," he said.

"We didn't deal with it discipline-wise, we didn't deal with it with mistakes at times. I'm glad we found a way back in. I'm glad when we weren't at our best we found a way to win."

Samoa led at halftime

Samoa led 14-8 at halftime, with two converted tries.

England had taken the lead with a try to Ollie Chessum who finished off his team's burst down field following some quick phases that broke the Samoan defence.

Captain Farrell missed the conversion as England led 5-0 before he raised the flags with a penalty conversion.

Possession changed hands a few times with England's Samoan centre Manu Tuilagi dancing his way through the Manu Samoa backline but the defence caught up out wide and thwarted what could have been a sure try in the corner.

Samoa then turned on the magic after that.

They attacked and ran the ball wide, inter-phased with some hard forward drives and kept the momentum on.

Wing Ah Wong finished off over the line after a number of phases, including some sweeping backline moves ignited by flyhalf Lima Sopoaga.

Sopoaga's conversion reduced the scoreline to 8-7 before Wong then caught a well-timed lobbed kick from Sopoaga to touch down just before he stepped over the dead-ball line.

Sopoaga converted again as Samoa led 14-8.

A third Samoan try was then cancelled by the referee Andrew Brace, after fullback Duncan Paia'aua had collected a loose ball close to the English line and scored.

Brace then called for the TMO who advised that the ball had come off a Samoan hand in the challenge for the ball and not tapped back by the English players as he had initially ruled.

Samoa kept the pressure on in the late stages of the first half and kept the English inside their half.

And when England managed to break away and won a lineout throw close to the Samoan half the Pacific Islanders defended well and forced a knock-on that ended the game in the first 40.

England won in second spell

Sopoaga extended Samoa's lead early in the second half with a penalty kick from in front.

Manu Samoa then continued from where they left off at halftime and pushed the English hard.

But England slowly worked their way back with Farrell kicking long touch finders deep into the Samoan territory.

Farrell then succeeded with a penalty and close the gap to 17-11.

Tumua Manu was sent off for 10 minutes and Care struck with his try. Farrell's conversion gave England a one point advantage going into the last six minutes of the game.

Tuilagi says it was special

England's Samoan player Tuilagi said he was proud of the way his side fought back.

Playing against his fellow Samoans was emotional, he said, especially hearing the Samoan anthem and watching the Siva Tau.

"I said well played after the game. It was a great challenge," he said.

"It was a special game. A special day and I thank the boys they made it special.

"There were a lot of feelings and emotions. I already pre-warned myself because I knew it was going to happen.

"For me to be out there and hear the national anthem and stand in front of the siva tau, which I grew up with. It was amazing."

Samoa finished with one win and three defeats while England recorded a clean four game record after the win.

England now waits for Monday's morning's result of the Fiji - Portugal clash to know who they will face in the quarterfinals.