Samoa beats Fiji 27-7 in error-strewn RWC match
Updated: September 25, 2011, 00:42
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) It wasn't the free-flowing Pacific islands rugby as promised, but Samoa's quest to reach the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals is still possible after beating Fiji 27-7 in an error-strewn match on Sunday.
Samoa scored two tries through Kahn Fotuali'i and George Stowers to one by Netani Edward Talei, all in a nine-minute span in a match watched by 60,237 that was otherwise littered with handling errors, turnovers and shoddy defense - mostly from a flat Fiji.
Flyhalf Tusi Pisi totaled 15 points from four penalties and a dropped goal as second-place Samoa improved to 10 points in Pool D. That's five more than Wales, its only realistic runner-up rival who has played a match less and still has winless Namibia and the Fijians to come.
"This game is about pressure and we kept them under pressure,'' Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger said. "When you play a side like Fiji, you've got to make sure you score points when you get in the 22.''
Samoa fullback Paul Williams was the standout player of the match, safe under the high ball and launching numerous counterattacks.
The greatest moment of fluency and synchronization in the match came at its conclusion: with players from both teams kneeling on the turf at Eden Park in front of tens of thousands of Samoan and Fijian expatriates, arms locked and heads bowed to be joined in prayer.
Fiji captain Deacon Manu had said the first World Cup clash between countries separated by 1,140 kilometers (710 miles) of South Pacific Ocean would bring big hits and entertaining rugby.
The big hits were occasionally in evidence but appalling handling and numerous turnovers put paid to any exciting end-to-end play.
When Samoa's siva tau challenge, led by Schwalger, was followed soon after it began by Fiji's response with its crouching cibi, the sellout crowd of 60,327 roared its approval in the expectation of an ensuing battle to match that confrontation.
It never really came.
Samoa led 9-0 by the 13th minute from two penalties and a 30-meter drop goal to Pisi after totally dominating territory and possession largely because of Fiji's aimless kicking and inability to protect its own ball.
The lead would have been greater but for two wasted try-scoring opportunities.
Samoa worked a shortside move in the eighth minute for Williams to burst through and link with George Pisi, who found Sailosi Tagicakibau five meters out. But Fiji's Naipolioni Nalaga came from his opposing winger's blind spot to hold him up over the try line.
The video referee made that ruling and he was called into action again 10 minutes later when Alesana Tuilagi chipped into space. The ball rolled into the in-goal and the 111-kilogram (244-pound) Samoa winger dived to try and ground it under pressure from an opponent, but to no avail.
Manu tried to inspire his players with a crunching tackle on Taiasina Tuifua. But Fiji couldn't match Samoa's intensity, the team's problems compounded by a malfunctioning scrum and lineout and struggles at the breakdown.
Pisi kicked another penalty while Fiji center Seremaia Bai missed with his only opportunity for Samoa to lead 12-0 at halftime.
On numerous occasions, Fijian players either ran into each other or competed for possession with a teammate to turn it over. What little the backline saw of the ball, the passing was stilted and the players neither ran at pace nor displayed any sleight of hand or subterfuge.
Samoa's 76 percent of first-half territory came from stealing two scrum tightheads and a lineout whereas its own setpiece was perfect.
"In the first half, we didn't fire too many shots,'' Manu said. "We found it hard to hold onto the ball for phases.''
Fotuali'i extended the lead to 20-0 by scooping the ball up and evading a couple of tacklers from close range to go over in the 62nd minute after Pisi had been brought down short of the line from a scrum.
Talei responded six minutes later for Fiji with a try converted by substitute Waisea Luveniyali to cut the gap to 20-7.
But Samoa hit back inside two minutes through No. 8 Stowers after excellent lead-up work by Williams, who converted from the sideline to end any chance of Fiji staging a comeback.
The Fijians never gave up, returning to set up camp in Samoa's quarter, but their finesse and skill levels never matched their commitment.
Samoa 27 (Kahn Fotuali'i, George Stowers tries; Tusu Pisi 4 penalties, dropped goal; Paul Williams conversion), Fiji 7 (Netani Edward Talei try; Waisea Sedre Luveniyali conversion). HT: 12-0.