England avoids Rugby World Cup upset with comeback one-point win over Samoa
LILLE, France (AP) — England gathered its senses from 17-8 down against Samoa and avoided one of the greatest Rugby World Cup upsets by edging a thrilling pool match 18-17 on Saturday.
Pool D was already won by quarterfinal-bound England which wanted to maintain momentum into the knockout stage next week. But a sloppy, second-rate performance was exploited by a fired-up Manu Samoa, who pulled out one more final trick to almost complete a shock win.
Wing Neria Foma’i was freed by fullback Duncan Paia’aua and was flying toward the tryline. He was eight meters from history when he was brought down from behind by England’s oldest back, replacement scrumhalf Danny Care. Foma’i’s pop-up pass was knocked on and the chance died for Samoa.
Samoa scored two converted tries and had two other tries ruled out in a second quarter in which England was blown away. Somehow, Samoa led at halftime by only six points.
The second half belonged to England, but it struggled to turn its dominance into points. Two of its own tries were canceled and it finally produced a clever try off a scrum by Care beside the posts in the 73rd minute.
The easy conversion was nailed by Owen Farrell, who had a penalty kick ruled out because he took too long on the night he became England’s highest point-scorer.
Care’s fresher legs then spared some embarrassment for England, which will likely face Fiji in the quarterfinals next Sunday in Marseille.
England started like a pool winner and a team that had an 8-0 record against Samoa. A lineout maul was driven more than 20 meters. Freddie Steward and Joe Marchant set up a try for lock Ollie Chessum. Farrell missed the conversion but slotted a penalty to take the England all-time points record from Jonny Wilkinson after 22 years.
Then England relaxed.
A pass by Jamie George was intercepted, and Samoa, in a flash, seemed to be attacking from all over Stade Pierre Mauroy, finishing with Steven Luatua feeding Nigel Ah Wong to score in the corner.
Sopoaga used a kicking tee gifted by an Englishman to make the conversion. He lost the tee he’d owned for 18 years during the win over Chile.
Only 8-7 down, Samoa’s confidence was ignited and unleashed waves of spectacular attacks of loops and breaks, outrageous passes and offloads, and smashing carries.
Steward saved a try when he stripped hooker Sama Malolo on the tryline, but Steward was beaten by inches when center Danny Toala’s cross-kick flew perfectly to Ah Wong who amazingly planted the ball inside the deadball line before he stepped on it.
Sopoaga’s extras made it 14-8 in the 29th and Samoa was still just warming up.
England was in panic stations and was fortunate that Samoa’s next two tries were ruled out by the barest of margins.
A try by Paia’aua was rubbed off by a knock-on that wasn’t obvious even on replays, and Ah Wong had a hat trick try canceled by a foot in touch.
Halftime arrived with England having hardly touched the ball for more than 20 minutes.
England had Farrell to thank in the new half. His poor pass was counterattacked by Samoa, but he tracked back to pull off a try-saving tackle on Paia’aua.
Samoa still got a Sopoaga penalty out of it to lead 17-8 and then seemed to relax while England began to hold the ball longer and rebuild confidence through phases.
An England score seemed imminent.
But Chessum was denied a second try by double movement and Marchant’s score was denied because of a forward pass.
Farrell’s second penalty closed the gap to 17-11 with a quarter to go, and he made a third penalty kick minutes later, but it wasn’t registered because he exceeded the shot clock, the first time that’s happened in the tournament.
Samoa was on a warning for off-the-ball incidents, and center Tumua Manu was yellow-carded for tackling Farrell in the air in the 66th.
England used the man advantage ruthlessly. Off scrum ball in front of the posts, England got Marcus Smith to distract Samoa one way while Care attacked the other way and scored untouched for Farrell’s match-winning conversion.
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