Samoa survived a scare in Heidelberg, scoring three tries in the last 11 minutes to confirm their place at Rugby World Cup 2019 with a 42-28 second-leg victory over Germany.
Having arrived in Europe with a 66-15 advantage from the first leg in Apia, the visitors were all-but assured of their place in Pool A, however, an unlikely defeat looked to be on the cards when the hosts took a 28-21 lead with less than 15 minutes remaining.
Samoa had paid the price for an error-strewn performance but clicked into gear as Ah See Tuala – the Samoa’s standout player over the two legs – scored twice either side of an Ed Fidow try to break Germany’s resolve and spare his own side’s blushes.
Tuala finished the match with 22 points, while Fidow and scrum-half Melani Matavao each also touched down twice.
Here’s how Pool A now looks after Samoa’s qualification to Rugby World Cup 2019, following their 42-28 win over Germany.@DRVRugby will play in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Repechage in Marseille this coming November, with @RugbyCanada, @HongKongRugby and one more team TBC pic.twitter.com/3ElwKFg7ck— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) July 14, 2018
“Obviously, we’ve been together for a long six weeks, and we have enjoyed ourselves together and it has brought us closer together,” Samoa captain Chris Vui, who attended the post-match press conference draped in a Samoan flag, said.
“The game was a bit patchy, there were definitely a lot of errors that we thought we could have executed better, definitely in the lineout and dropped balls in general.
“It always goes back to those little errors with our team. It’s not a skill thing, is just execution. We can definitely work on it, it’s not a problem.”
Potential clear for Germany
Tries from Jaco Otto, Samy Fuchsel and Jarrid Els, coupled with 13 points from the kicking tee had put the hosts within touching distance of arguably their greatest ever triumph.
But with temperatures in Heidelberg hotter than they had been in Apia on Saturday, Germany were unable to hold on as Samoa’s superior fitness told in the final 10 minutes.
“I always say I try to discover the real potential (of his team),” Germany coach Pablo Lemoine said. “After the game in Samoa definitely I had many doubts about if we were prepared to go to the next step. That next step is qualifying for a World Cup.
“Today we can see they have enough potential (to do that). We have a lot of things to improve, but everything we can improve, we can work on.”
Samoa began the game knowing they could lose by 50 points in Heidelberg and still punch their ticket to Japan 2019, so commanding was their first-leg victory a fortnight ago.
If German fans hoped that scenario would lead to lethargy from their visitors, they appeared to be out of luck as Sinoti Sinoti raced onto a short kick-off to regain possession for Samoa.
As the ball was recycled, it was kicked over the top of the home defence and Sinoti's back-three colleague Fidow showed supreme pace to outstrip Coetzee and score in the right corner. Tuala added the touchline conversion to give Samoa a seven-point lead with less than 60 seconds on the clock.
It was a bitter blow to a German side that had worked tirelessly on their defence in the two weeks since their trip to Apia. But it wasn’t one that proved fatal, as the hosts took control of the first half.
Cheered on by a raucous home crowd – aided in part by a misfiring Samoan lineout and some uncharacteristic mistakes from the visitors – the hosts put pressure on their illustrious opponents almost from the restart.
A powerful shove from the German forward pack on the left wing gave their backs some room to attack on the right. Hilsenbeck and Coetzee did exactly that, and after the former kicked in behind, the pair’s chase forced a turnover.
From the resulting scrum Hagen Schulte lofted an audacious chip over the Samoan defence before regathering possession ahead of Tuala. As the ball was recycled and spread wide left, Germany enjoyed a spell of possession camped on their visitors’ line before their forward packed were able to power their way over the line.
Otto came up with the ball – to add to his two tries in the first leg – while Parkinson added the conversion to level the scores.
Samoan flags were a feature of the crowd in south-west Germany, but while those supporters would have expected a response from their side, it was not forthcoming.
Paul Perez momentarily gave the travelling fans something to cheer as he beat a handful of defenders on the left touchline. However, the ball was quickly lost allowing Sebastian Ferreira to take play from the German 10-metre line to the deep inside the Samoan 22.
The hosts sensed another chance and following some quick hands prop Fuchsel swan-dived in on the left touchline. Parkinson missed the subsequent conversion, while after the centre had departed with a suspected concussion, Coetzee spurned an opportunity to extend Germany’s five-point lead to eight from the tee.
And the hosts were made to pay for that profligacy as Motu Matuu stripped possession late in the first half before drawing full-back Hilsenbeck and playing in Matavao to score under the posts. There was a hint of a forward pass about the final offload, but having watched it back on replay, Lemoine happy that it was flat.
His players managed to get their noses back in front on the stroke of half-time as Hilsenbeck punished further Samoan ill-discipline with three points, to hand the hosts a 15-14 lead at the break.
The second period began much like the first as Samoa capitalised on some early pressure to score, Matavao sniping over from close range.
But just as in the opening half, the visitors were not in front for long as Els started and finished off a flowing team move that contained telling contributions from Ferreira, Eric Marks and Otto. Hilsinbeck added the conversion to nudge Germany back in front, and the home crowd dared to dream yet again.
Unsurprisingly, with temperatures topping out at around 32 degrees, the home side’s exertion was starting to tell and as the game became scrappy injuries began to mount up. Ferreira joined Parkinson on the sidelines midway through the second, while Schulte was among the players who started to display signs of cramp.
But in spite of those casualties, Germany were able to keep the scoreboard ticking in their favour as Hilsenbeck and Coetzee – from inside his own half – added successful penalties.
Coetzee’s mammoth effort gave the hosts a seven-point cushion – and hope – but it would not be enough as Tuala, twice, and Fidow crossed late on to break home hearts.