Rugby World Cup 2019
Russia 9-34 Samoa
Ill-disciplined Samoa came good in a free-flowing second half to see off Russia in their opening Pool A game at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium
Samoa’s goal is to make the quarter-finals for the first time since 1995 and, ranked four places above Russia, they were expected to win. They did, but only after a bruising, chaotic opening half.
“It was a tough game,” said Samoa captain Chris Vui. “We knew that Russia was going to come that first 40, first 20, we just had to stick it out there, and I’m pretty proud of how the boys came back in that second half.
“We have huge belief in our bench, they are the finishers. They came on and added some impact.”
The nerves were understandable, too, as eight of Samoa’s starters were making their World Cup debuts, including prop Mike Alaalatoa, with just one cap, and Vui, who took over as captain for the injured Jack Lam.
A stray pass from Samoan full-back Tim Nanai-Williams gave Russia a great chance after five minutes as both sides sought to find their composure.
When they started spinning the ball wide and running the angles, Samoa had the Russians scampering for cover and, but for a fumble, winger Ed Fidow could have broken clear. Just when Samoa looked likely to break through, they conceded two soft penalties that must have frustrated their coach Steve Jackson.
Instead of taking a kickable penalty in the 11th minute, Samoa went for the corner and again came up short with sloppy play.
Given the difference in weight, the Russia front five showed their intent by standing firm and winning a penalty from the scrum.
Something had to give and it finally did in the 15th minute when a beautiful pass from full-back Tim Nanai-Williams sent the powerful frame of winger Alapati Leiua over out wide. Tusi Pisi was well off target with his conversion attempt.
Russia got on the board in the 18th minute through a Yury Kushnarev penalty but, possession-wise, it was all Samoa.
Shortly after Vasily Dorofeev was almost through, the Russians got a penalty for a breakdown infringement and, against all the odds, up stepped Kushnarev to put them 6-5 ahead.
Samoa could have been a man down after 28 minutes when Rey Lee-Lo’s shoulder caught the dipping head of full-back Vasily Artemyev, but he escaped with a yellow after it was reviewed.
Artemyev was again in the wars almost straight after, this time getting another high tackle from Motu Matu’u, who came off second best. Matu’u was also shown a yellow card, leaving the Samoans two down, and the head knock was severe enough to rule out Matu’u for the rest of the game.
Samoa had the chance to snatch the lead again but Pisi was unable to convert a rather straightforward penalty and it was Russia, with the numerical advantage, who dominated the Islanders in the few minutes before half-time, with Vladimir Ostroushko charging down a kick from Pisi and almost touching it down for a try.
Samoa’s second try in the 44th minute was a slick moment that was eventually finished off by Afaesetiti Amosa, who fell awkwardly after Kirill Gotovtsev went high and was immediately shown a yellow card. Amosa was taken off on a stretcher.
Pisi missed his third conversion in as many attempts.
Russia refused to yield, though, and a sweetly-struck drop goal from Kushnarev put them within one point.
Samoa then produced a third try of quality, an excellently produced set-piece that was finished off by Fidow near the posts and converted by Pisi. Fido went over again in the 52nd minute, with Pisi converting to make the score 24-9.
Samoa were now in full control and their fifth try arrived in then 65th minute, Lee-Lo scoring to extend the lead to 29-9.
Russia came close to scoring a couple of times late in the game, but Samoa finished in style, Leiua crossing for his second and the try of the night.
Russia coach Lyn Jones said: “It’s disappointing, but fair play to Samoa, they came out second half and they play some good football, footwork, speed skill, all good stuff.”