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'We came here with a goal... be the first Samoa team to beat England'

By Josh Raisey
Joe Marler of England shakes hands with Brian Alainu'u'ese of Samoa after the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between England and Samoa at Stade Pierre Mauroy on October 07, 2023 in Lille, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

England entered their match against Samoa in Lille on Saturday knowing they were Pool D winners, but they looked anything but that, as Steve Borthwick will be all too aware that his side were one unsuccessful diving tackle from Danny Care away from yet more ignominy.

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The margins were so fine that had the climactic conditions been the same as they were in England’s opening two matches of the World Cup in Marseille, the troublesome humidity might have allowed Neria Fomai’s right leg to slip through the clutches of the scrum-half, and England would have suffered their second ‘first ever loss’ in the space of six weeks.

Given the events of the last couple of months, chiefly England’s historic loss to Fiji at Twickenham, any side facing them will feel they are ripe for the taking at the moment, and that is why it was so hard for the Samoan players to hide their disappointment after the match.

Behind a positive outlook was a genuine sense of regret amongst the players that a chance to beat England went begging, and it would have been a victory that was richly deserved. Samoa dominated the middle two quarters of the match and it was only a slight lapse in discipline in the final stages that allowed their opponents to sneak a 18-17 victory.

Match Summary

2
Penalty Goals
1
2
Tries
2
1
Conversions
2
0
Drop Goals
0
92
Carries
110
8
Line Breaks
7
16
Turnovers Lost
12
7
Turnovers Won
5

Seilala Mapusua’s men arrived at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy with the aim of winning, and they played like a team that fully expected to despite a lopsided history against Owen Farrell’s side. Given their intentions pre-match and how they performed, winger Nigel Ah Wong made it quite clear how the team were feeling.

“The boys and the team are very disappointed,” the 33-year-old said. “We came here with a goal tonight to make history, to be the first Samoa team to the beat England.

“We let ourselves down and that’s probably a common theme with the last few games. A lot of discipline and handling errors, but I thought our handling today was much better. It was just probably our discipline that let us down today, so the boys are very disappointed.”

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The result should not detract from some standout performances from the Samoan squad, particularly Ah Wong himself, who not only scored twice, but produced a contender for the try of the World Cup when he was able to catch Lima Sopoaga’s cross-field kick at full tilt behind the try line and still manage to dot the ball down before going out. After missing the loss to Japan, the former Blues winger came back into the starting XV to torment England down the right flank as Samoa played with a fluidity that had not been seen at the World Cup before then.

Ah Wong outlined some of those changes that were seen in Lille that were not seen in losses to Argentina and Japan.

“We were able to get the ball to the areas we wanted to that we’ve been working on hard the last few weeks,” he said. “We’ve struggled to get the ball out to the edge over the past few weeks and today we managed to string a few phases together, hold on to the ball, which allowed us to find some space down down the edges. That was probably the big difference from the previous games.”

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Perhaps the greatest regret for Samoa might lie in the fact that had they performed against their other opponents in the way they did against England, they might not be leaving the World Cup so early. In a pool where the eponymous D could easily be a grading for some of the performances from the teams that comprise it, Samoa will know that if all their performances were at the same level as their final match, they probably would have done enough to make the quarter-finals. That is probably why they say the saddest phrase utterable is ‘it might have been’.

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But it was not as though Samoa simply decided to flick a switch before their final match, as hooker Sama Malolo emphasised, rather it was a case of the team gelling as the World Cup progressed following some limited playing time before heading to France.

Malolo said that the result “hurts”, but he is proud of the strides the side have made over the last month particularly when compared to the lack of preparation his side has had compared to the likes of England.

“Samoa as a team we haven’t played many games this year, we don’t get much time to build our cohesiveness as a team and it’s taken us to our last game of the Rugby World Cup to finally get there. We don’t get that privilege like the tier one nations do, to play multiple games throughout the year.

“Whatever happens, I’m proud of the boys and I just hope that we can stay together as a team moving forward and get some more Test matches for our country.”

 

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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