Back-to-basics England burst South Sea bubble
England 26 Samoa 13
If there was a short period after the interval when there was a prospect of some South Sea islands glory, England went back to basics and, for the second week in succession, recorded a comfortable victory, despite failing to outscore their opponents on tries.
Samoa achieved their best result against England in six meetings, but that was not down to the home side's euphoria after victory over Australia failing to subside. Rather it was the impressive manner in which the islanders pursued a strategy of slowing down the ball at the breakdown by committing forwards and playing more of a territorial game than they are renowned for.
England again played with width and ambition, resembling Australia in the way they used runners to attack from deep and hit the line hard, but Samoa's was impressively organised and largely dealt with the many forays of the wings, Chris Ashton and Mark Cueto, into the midfield.
England scored two tries, the first by Matt Banahan after a swift passing movement and the second by the replacement Tom Croft after the converted wing used all of his 6ft 7ins to scoop a wayward pass from the Samoa scrum-half, Kahn Fotuali'i, in his own half as the visitors chased the game, 11 points down.
England had three more disallowed, one for a forward pass and two after first Ben Foden and then Cueto had put a foot in touch, and they made more basic errors than they had against Australia -- but they were up against opponents worthy of playing Tier One nations on a regular basis. Samoa are no longer a side based on hard hits and exuberance: all but one of their 22-man squad has a professional contract and they never looked like cracking, forcing England to stop kicking penalties for touch and start going for goal.
A problem for England was that the game was more stop-start than the previous week's. The referee, Peter Fitzgibbon, awarded 28 penalties and resisted reaching for his yellow card after blowing Samoa eight times at the scrum. England were given a warning after killing the ball at the breakdown three times in a five-minute spell in the opening quarter and a feature of the afternoon was that possession had to be earned.
Ben Youngs had little quick ball to work with from scrum-half, but England did fashion openings from slow possession. They fielded a physically imposing pair of centres in Shontayne Hape and Banahan, and while the Bath men were never slow to use their strength, they both showed a deftness of touch that had largely been latent before yesterday.
They both started badly, Hape knocking on and Banahan missing a regulation tackle on his opposite number, George Pisi, but became increasingly influential. Hape was initially used to take slow ball up the middle, but he gradually started to trust his hands. His try-creating off-load to Ashton, which was blown for being forward, showed a growing confidence that became more pronounced after the break.
Banahan was even more of a slow-burner, but he quickly gained a penchant for flicks and tricks. He scored England's opening try seven minutes into the second period after Samoa had taken the lead with a surprisingly simple try 38 seconds after the interval and Hape was turned over under his own posts.
Banahan created the second by taking a pass high above his head and timing his pass to Danny Care, who drew his man to give Croft an unopposed run to the line.
England conceded two kickable penalties in the opening minutes. Whereas James O'Connor failed to take advantage last week, Paul Williams succeeded with his first after James Haskell had failed to roll away after a tackle to give Samoa the lead, but then missed from closer to the posts after Foden stayed on the wrong side of a ruck.
Foden had a try ruled out on 10 minutes after being tackled into touch by Tasesa Lavea and England led 6-3 at the interval through two penalties from Toby Flood, who again ran his back division impressively. Samoa had threatened little in attack, but when their replacement second row, Iosefa Tekori, robbed Hape of the ball deep in England's 22, the islanders took advantage of a disorganised defence by passing quickly and Paul Williams exploited a large gap between Courtney Lawes and Foden.
Banahan restored the lead, but England looked like relying on two more penalties by Flood to confirm the victory before Croft scored four minutes after replacing Haskell. Samoa had the last word when the replacement wing, Fautua Otto, scored in the corner.
England will not have to worry about hyperbole this week, but yesterday's performance, in its different way, was almost as notable as the week before.
Scorers -- England: Banahan, Croft try each. Flood 2 Cons, 4 pens. Samoa: P Williams, try, con, Otto try.
England -- B Foden, C Ashton (Armitage 79) , M Banahan, S Hape, M Cueto, T Flood, B Youngs (Care 68), N Easter; H Fourie, J Haskell (Croft 68); T Palmer, C Lawes (Attwood 67), D Wilson (Cole 52), D Hartley (Thompson 52), A Sheridan.
Samoa: P Williams, D Lemi (Otto 59), G Pisi (G Williams 75), S Mapasua, A Tuilagi, T Lavea (Poluleuligaga 66), K Fotualii, G Stowers; M Salavea, O Treviranus (Aiono 64); F Levi, K Thompson, A Perenise (Johnston 67), M Schwalger, S Taulafo.
Ref: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ire).