England faced off against Samoa for the second time in the tournament after the hosts thrashed their opponents in the opening group game. But Samoa showed a different side to their game in their unexpected win over Tonga in the quarter final.
The only change for Shaun Wane from the side which beat Samoa last time out was to bring in John Bateman (suspended for the opening game) as replacement for Mike McMeeken in the starting line-up, the Catalans Dragons man dropping to the bench in place of the omitted Matty Lees.
England were installed as favourites, handicapped by ten points on the coupon, as the two sides vied to take on Australia at Old Trafford next Saturday in the tournament final. It was Samoa´s first ever appearance in a Semi-Final, England looking for their second consecutive appearance in World Club Final. After last nights game at Elland Road second semi had a lot to live up to.
A couple of nervous early mistakes from Samoa were quickly dispelled when Tim Lafai took the ball from Jarome Luai to outpace Kalum Watkins and come inside Dom Young to ground. Stephen Crichton was just wide of the target with his conversion attempt from wide. The English crowd silenced.
Junior Paolo, only playing after a successful appeal against a one game ban during the week, was sin-binned on twelve minutes after lifting in the tackle. England quickly got a second penalty but surrendered possession on the second tackle.
Samoa lost both Fa´amanu Brown and Oregon Kaufusi for a head impact assessment on fourteen after a ´friendly fire´ clash of heads incident. Samoa suffering some early disruption.
On nineteen England were seemingly all square as they engineered an overlap down the right, Kallum Watkins taking a delayed pass from Sam Tomkins to go over from five metres, but referee Sutton consulted the video referee who ruled that Watkins lost the ball in the act of scoring, Samoa maintaining their lead.
The video referee couldn´t deny Elliott Whitehead a try on twenty-four as he took a suspiciously forward-looking George Williams pass to go in from ten metres out. Tommy Makinson added the goal to put England into the lead, much to the relief of the large crowd.
Poor England defence gifted Lingi Sao a try as he went from acting half back when Watkins fell for a dummy and the second rower dove for the line to slide over. Crichton converted from close to the touchline for 10-6.
England had chosen the semi-final of the World Cup to put in their worse forty minutes of rugby in the competition, Samoa had chosen to put in their best, and that was the difference between the two sides.
Lafai dropped a Williams kick under pressure from Watkins, knocking the ball back into play, with John Bateman picking up the loose ball and taking one step to score. Makinson added the conversion to put England back in the lead.
A try out of the top draw saw the lead change hands again. On the last tackle it was basketball stuff with Stephen Crichton being the beneficiary of great work from Luai and Paolo to offload when the play twice looked to be dying under the tackle. Crichton added the conversion for 16-12.
Young spilled a simple catch on fifty-five to put his side under massive pressure. Three plays into the subsequent set Samoa were in again with Lafai exploiting a two man overlap down the left-hand side as England failed to slide. Crichton was unable to add the extras, but England were two tries behind, more than a score between the two sides for the first time.
After getting a penalty for an offside on sixty-three minutes England were in for their third try, Herbie Farnworth battering his way through three ferocious tackles and fording the ball onto the ground. Makinson was on target with the conversion, the Samoan lead down to two points with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Sam Tomkins was hit late by Paolo after putting up a kick, England being awarded a penalty where the ball landed and Makinson kicking the penalty to level the scores at 20-20 with thirteen minutes of a nail-biting game remaining, only the edges of seats were being used around the stadium.
As the game entered its last ten minutes it was still anyone’s.
Stephen Crichton put one Samoan foot into the final as he intercepted a Victor Radley pass on his own forty and sprinted to the England line to score under the posts. Crichton added the conversion for a six-point lead with six points left on the clock.
Incredibly England scored again on seventy-seven when Williams broke the Samoa line and found Farnworth in support on the halfway line to sprint to the line and come round to improve the angle for Makinson to add the extras for 26-26 with a minute remaining.
England lost the ball on their next attack as the game headed for golden point, next score was in the final.
England received the kick-off, but Samoa had the first change with Elliot Whithead charging down an Anthony Milford drop goal attempt. As England moved the ball away, they threw a forward pass. On eighty-three Samoa threw the ball back to Stephen Crichton who slotted over a forty metre drop goal for the winning play.
While the game didn´t live up to the skill and intensity of the first semi-final, it was another terrific game between two dedicated sides who were both desperate for the win and the chance to face Australia in the final. Samoa won the game in golden point extra time and were ultimately good value for their win. England made two mistakes in their most important three minutes of rugby for five years, and paid the price.
Samoa now take on Australia in next weekend´s final when the rest of the world will be ´Samoa for a day´ to cheer them on to lift the trophy.
England: Tomkins, Makinson (5G), Watkins, Farnworth (2T), Young, Welsby, Williams, Burgess, McIlorum, Hill, Whitehead (T), Bateman (T), Radley. Subs: Cooper, Knowles, McMeeken, Thompson.
Samoa: Suaali´i, May, Lafai (T), Crichton (2T, 3G, DG), To´o, Luai (T), Milford, Hunt, Brown, Paulo (SB on 12), Su´a, Sao (T), Kaufusi. Subs: Harris-Tavita, Papali´i, Leniu, Tuilagi.
Full-Time: 26-26. Golden Point: 26-27.
Score Progression: 0-4, (SB), 4-4, 6-4, 6-8, 6-10 : HT : 10-10, 12-10, 12-14, 12-16, 12-20, 16-20, 18-20, 20-20, 20-24, 20-26, 24-26, 26-26 : FT: 26-27 : Golden Point
Lead Exchanges: Samoa – Square - England – Samoa – Square – England – Samoa – Square – Samoa – Square - Samoa.
Referee: Gerard Sutton.
Attendance: 40,489 at The Emirates Stadium, London.