KOBE, 30 Sep - Scotland reignited their prospects of reaching the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a tense but deserved bonus-point victory over Samoa at the Kobe Misaki Stadium on Monday.
They had to wait until six minutes from time to register a fourth try that could be critical to their hopes of progressing from a highly competitive Pool A.
Sean Maitland, who scored Scotland’s opening try, pictured, dived in at the left corner only for Samoa wing Ed Fidow to dislodge the ball with his knee. After referring the decision to the TMO, referee Pascal Gauzere awarded a second penalty try, the first time two have been awarded in a Rugby World Cup match.
The Frenchman also issued a second yellow card to Fidow, who was then shown red to compound Samoa’s misery. They are the first team at this tournament to fail to register a score, and have now conceded more penalty tries, nine, than any team in RWC history.
It was Scotland’s fourth win in as many meetings with Samoa at Rugby World Cups, and a huge relief to them after a dismal opening 27-3 defeat by Ireland.
Head coach Gregor Townsend hailed it as an “exceptional performance”, and his side now have eight days to prepare for their next pool match against Russia on 9 October, when another bonus-point win will be required if they are to remain in contention going into a decisive final pool fixture against Japan four days later in Yokohama.
💬 "If we can play like we did tonight, and improve a couple more aspects, we'll very much be in this world cup"— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 30, 2019
Strong stuff from Gregor Townsend after @scotlandteam beat Samoa in Kobe #RWC2019 #SCOvSAM pic.twitter.com/cDaeHBHmZ5
“That was a true reflection of who we are and what we are capable of, what playing for Scotland means for all the players,” Townsend said. “That was a tough challenge we had to face, knowing if we didn’t perform tonight we would be out of the World Cup.”
Townsend had dispensed with plenty of experience, particularly in a revamped back row. But Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie and Blade Thomson all repaid his faith in spades.
“I thought Jamie Ritchie had an outstanding game,” said Townsend of the openside flanker playing his first game since surgery on a broken cheekbone. “To come back from surgery and play like he did tonight shows what an exceptional player he is, but also his character.”
The front five also earned plenty of plaudits, with Jonny Gray named Player of the Match for a typically industrious shift in which he topped the tackle count.
His second-row partner Grant Gilchrist helped set the tone with one of several thumping hits in the opening minutes. There was a snarl and snap about the Scots from the off, despite the searing heat and humidity under the stadium roof.
The ferocity of the early exchanges led to casualties on both sides, Samoa losing captain Jack Lam to a head knock in the third minute, Scotland prop Allan Dell departing after 12.
Greig Laidlaw kicked Scotland into a ninth-minute lead with a penalty, moving past 700 points for his country in the process, but errors at vital moments in the opening half-hour meant a breakthrough try eluded them.
But suddenly Scotland, the last team to score a try in this World Cup, had two in three minutes. First, Finn Russell’s beautifully judged cross-kick to the left corner found Maitland, and the winger finished without fuss.
Fly-half Russell also created the second try minutes later with a lovely offload out of the back of his hand to Ritchie, who released Laidlaw. The scrum-half appeared to hesitate momentarily, only for Tim Nanai-Williams’s tackle to propel him, stumbling, over the line.
Laidlaw landed both conversions and minutes later Stuart Hogg thumped over a drop goal from inside his own half – the first of his 71-test career – to improve the lead to 20-0.
Scotland resumed their quest for a bonus point and a third score arrived courtesy of a penalty try after 57 minutes, with Fidow sent to the sin-bin for bringing down the maul. He did not last long on his return before seeing red as Scotland finished a superb salvage job
Samoa, a muted force in attack faced with the intensity of Scotland’s defensive effort, must recover quickly, with a short turnaround before facing Japan on Saturday.
"It's testing but there's no point in dwelling on what we can't have,” said head coach Vaeluaga Steve Jackson. “We've just got to look forward to what we've got and pick this group up."