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RWC 2003 HIGHLIGHTS – Spirited Samoa hand England a scare

25 October 2013

  • Four-try England eventually oust Samoa
  • Pacific Islanders race into 10-0 lead within five minutes

England survived a first-quarter horror-show to beat Samoa 35-22 and record their third consecutive win at Rugby World Cup 2003, all but guaranteeing a quarter-final place against the runner-up in Pool D.

Semo Sititi

Photo: Getty Images

It was far from convincing at times, especially early on as the Pacific Islanders careered out of the blocks to hand Clive Woodward a genuine scare at Melbourne’s Telstra Dome.

However, England were patient enough to keep faith in their patterns, which eventually yielded four tries and 15 points from the boot of Jonny Wilkinson as the spirited Samoans were ground down in the second half.

With just four minutes on the clock though, what had been billed as a relatively straightforward victory for the tournament favourites seemed extremely far away.

Inside 90 seconds, England were penalised for offside by South African referee Jonathan Kaplan and Earl Va’a slotted the shot at goal to hand his team an early lead.

Semo Sititi then sent the neutrals among the 50,000-strong crowd into pandemonium by finishing off a truly stunning Samoan attack that swept 55 metres through three phases, showcasing sublime handling at breakneck speed.

Peter Poulos of Samoa is tackled by Mike Tindall and Matt Dawson

Photo: Getty Images

England were truly stunned at 10-0 down, but began to feel their way back into the contest and finally got on the board as Neil Back burrowed over from a driving maul on 25 minutes. Wilkinson added the extras from wide on the right and then converted a penalty to level the contest.

Impatience at the breakdown crept into England performance from there, though, and Va’a was presented with kickable two chances as first Lawrence Dallaglio and then skipper Martin Johnson infringed.

Woodward’s charges seemed slightly ruffled at 16-10 down, and when Wilkinson – in unflappable form from the tee throughout the competition up until now – saw a straightforward penalty attempt cannon off the post, an enormous upset looked possible.

Thankfully there was a chance for the Newcastle Falcons fly half to atone for his error immediately, which he duly took to reduce England’s half-time arrears to three points.

Ben Cohen

Photo: Getty Images

Woodward would have been disappointed with his side’s tally of 20 missed tackles at the break, but kept faith with the starting 15 until the 50 minute-mark, when Phil Vickery, Steve Thompson and Lewis Moody were introduced.

Those changes injected some impetus to England’s forward effort, and from a five-metre scrum they forced Kaplan to award a penalty try that finally gave them a slender lead.

Still Samoa came back, though, and another brace of Va’a penalties saw them inch ahead 22-20 on the hour mark.

But five minutes later, Wilkinson stepped up to nail an opportunistic drop goal before finding a flying Iain Balshaw with a perfect cross-kick for try number three. Vickery then put some gloss on England’s victory with a short-range score in the final stages.

Even so, this was a fright England should not forget.

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the 2003 Rugby World Cup win, is posting highlights and reaction from each of England's matches. On Monday, head here for reaction from this fantastic Pool C clash.