Samoa claimed Group B’s last quarter-final place despite not winning a single group game, after drawing 14-14 with Scotland in Cairns.
The Samoans came into the game as heavy favourites, with Scotland already having endured two heavy defeats, as well as losing Danny Brough, Sam Brooks and Jonathan Walker mid-week due to disciplinary reasons.
Steve McCormack’s side started surprisingly confidently, however, restricting Samoa’s attack and even scoring the game’s first try on six minutes.
With the ball inside Samoa’s 20m they went blind from dummy half, before Danny Addy chipped inside for Lewis Tierney to chase. The Catalans’ fullback dodged interference from Josh Papalii and managed to beat Young Tonumaipea to the ball to score. Addy added the extras for a 6-0 lead.
Despite their opponents’ good start, Samoa managed to level five minutes later after a high-tackle penalty piggybacked them downfield. After some big drives from the forwards, it eventually proved too much for the Scots as Junior Paulo crashed over from 2m out.
Scotland’s rhythm wasn’t interrupted, though, as they continued to assert their surprising dominance on the game. A penalty from 40m out didn’t seem to faze Danny Addy, as he made the sensible decision to slow play down and edge his side ahead with a beautifully struck goal.
Samoa were undoubtedly rattled and started playing panic rugby. Matthew Wright’s attempt to control Addy’s bomb by volleying it in his own in-goal area was a prime example. Unfortunately the Scots couldn’t make the most of that opportunity, but did get on the scoresheet soon after thanks to some smart play from Frankie Mariano.
With Samoa bringing the ball out from their own line, an audacious offload attempt from Tonumaipea was intercepted by the Featherstone forward, who was able to round two Samoan defenders to reach the line. Addy extended the lead with another impressive conversion, this time from the touchline.
Samoa would have cut the deficit just before halftime, was it not for some good defensive work from Tierney. He chased back after Pita Godinet’s break, forcing the former Wakefield man to throw a wild forward pass to Matthew Wright. His effort epitomised the Bravehearts’ first half performance – determined and gutsy.
The second 40 started much slower than the first, with both teams seemingly trying to figure out each other’s tactics before starting any meaningful attacks. It took nine minutes for the first four-pointer, as Samoa mounted their strongest set of the game, resulting in Matthew Wright going over.
A move to the right caught Scotland short, with some quick hands allowing Wright to squeeze over in the corner despite Matty Russell’s last-ditch tackle attempt.
Samoa were certainly looking stronger this half, forcing repeat sets and really making Scotland work hard in defence.
Eventually the pressure told on 66 minutes, as Jarome Luai put Tonumaipea through a gap from close range. Crucially, though, Matthew Wright couldn’t convert, leaving the game tied at 14-14 with just over 10 to go.
The intensity was high, with knock-ons from both sides giving Scotland a scrum on halfway. A good run from Lachlan Stein saw the ball stripped, giving Addy the chance to nudge his side ahead from a similar position to his first-half effort. His attempt just pulled to the left, however, setting up a tense last five minutes.
Both Oscar Thomas and Danny Addy had attempts at drop-goals, but both put them just wide. With a minute to go, all the Samoans had to do was take their tackles, before Luai pumped the ball out of play on the hooter to end the game. It was so close, but yet so far for Scotland, as Samoa will now advance to the finals on points difference.
Samoa: Tonumaipea, Leutele, Lafai, Leilua, Wright, Luai, Brown, Junior Paulo, Tevega, Ese’ese, Papalii, Winterstein, Afoa. Subs: Godinet, Joseph Paulo, Ah Mau, Tagataese.
Scotland: Tierney, Toal, Hellewell, Stein, Russell, Addy, Thomas, Douglas, Phillips, Kavanagh, Mariano, Ferguson, Bell. Subs: K. Bentley, Wilkinson, A. Bentley, Anderson.
Referee: Ashley Klein
Scoring Sequence: 0-6, 6-6, 6-8, 6-14, 10-14, 14-14
Credit: NRL Photos