Welsh In Crisis As Samoan Hoodoo Strikes Again
by Paul Cook –
What has happened to Wales? Back in March they were crowned Six Nations champions, completing the Grand Slam for good measure and all this on the back of a 4th place finish at the 2011 World Cup – their best result since the inaugural tournament in 1987. A mere eight months later and their 26-19 loss to Samoa last Friday was their second in successive weeks at home to a team ranked below them in the IRB standings and follows on from their whitewash at the hands of Australia in June, meaning they’ve now lost five tests in a row.
This was no smash and grab raid from Samoa either, they thoroughly deserved their victory. Having set their stall out early with a try in the opening minute to full-back Fa’atoina Autagavaia, they set about smashing their hosts at the breakdown with relish, upsetting the Welsh patterns and eroding their wavering confidence. Samoa’s offload skills and support runners caused constant problems while the halves combination of Kahn Fotuali’i and Tusi Pisi guided them around the park with aplomb leaving the Millennium Stadium crowd – mindful of losses to the same opponent in both the 1991 and 1999 World Cups – in quiet contemplation as a repeat performance loomed large.
Wales got a break when a loose pass from Pisi was picked off by Ashley Beck for a length of the field score but their 13-10 half-time advantage was against the run of play. The second half saw the lead change hands five times as the Welsh desperately tried to avert disaster but they could only muster points from Leigh Halfpenny’s boot and it was Samoa’s greater finishing skills that got them deservedly home. George Pisi acrobatically restored their advantage in the corner after some good work from Fotuali’i down the shortside and with the game in the balance at 21-19 with 3 minutes left, Johnny Leota won a foot race from David Lemi’s chip to seal Samoa’s triumph. It doesn’t get any easier for Wales either – next up, the All Blacks.
Frederic Michalak’s international renaissance has continued apace as his 24pt haul helped France to a 39-22 win over Argentina. Continuing their fine form from last week, Los Pumas got off to a flier when a nicely worked Marcelo Bosch try complemented penalties from fly-half Nicolas Sanchez to put them into a 13-3 lead after only 16 minutes. But just as the parochial crowd were beginning to mutter their discontent, their enigmatic heroes crossed twice in 4 minutes, Vincent Clerc profiting on both occasions after some nifty work down the short side found Argentina wanting.
An opportunistic strike in the 33rd minute from flanker Yannick Nyanga dealt a bitter blow to the visitors as their early confidence started to wane under the French onslaught and they trailed 24-13 at the break. The game descended into a dour, stop-start affair in the second stanza with penalties galore and a shoot-out developed between Michalak and Sanchez as the running rugby was eschewed in favour of pragmatism. That battle ended 15-9 in Michalak’s favour to leave a margin befitting France’s greater sense of purpose and all evidence suggests that something special may be brewing in the land of the Gauls…
South Africa maintained their unbeaten tour status with an unconvincing 21-10 win over Scotland at Murrayfield. The last time the Springboks were in Edinburgh in 2010, they were on the end of a famous defeat and although they came away with the spoils this time out, they certainly made heavy weather of it as the Scots rallied from a first half slumber to dominate the second half. Hooker Adriaan Strauss was the unlikely two try hero for South Africa with one in each half, the first off a textbook rolling maul, the second an intercept of a wild pass from Scottish scrum-half Mike Blair just after the break.
Blair’s punishment was to be instantly replaced by 23yr old tyro Henry Pyrgos, who proceeded to find the chalk from a well worked line out play within minutes of his introduction, almost single-handedly sparking Scotland into life in the process. Murrayfield was suddenly alive with expectation but although their exalted charges took it to their loftier opponents with interest, dominating possession, territory and a woeful Springbok scrum, they were unable to land any knockout blows. South Africa held on but they are far from impervious right now.
There was no Sir Richie at all and Dan Carter stayed on the bench but it was pretty much business as usual for the all conquering All Blacks against Italy – at least on the scoreboard. They eventually cruised to a 42-10 win which stretched their unbeaten run to 19 tests but they didn’t have it all their own way in Rome as the Azzurri threw everything they had at them for at least an hour. They were only 13-7 behind at the break but New Zealand went up a couple of gears in the second half, crossing for three tries in the last 12 minutes as the Italians tired, to put some polish on the final score.
Destroyer-in-chief was Julian Savea, who had a hand in two of the first three tries before crossing twice himself near the end to make it ten tries in his first seven tests. Italy can hold their heads high after a superb effort and will take a lot of confidence into this weekend’s clash with Australia while the All Blacks continue on to Cardiff, the last team the faltering Welsh side would want to face right now.
THIS WEEKEND’S FIXTURES (AET)
Ireland v Argentina – Sun 1am
Italy v Australia – Sun 1am
England v South Africa – Sun 1.30am
Scotland v Tonga – Sun 2am
France v Samoa – Sun 4am
Wales v New Zealand – Sun 4.15am