Scotland qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals with a thrilling 36-33 win against Samoa at St James' Park on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The victory secured second spot in Pool B for the Scots, with Japan, who play the USA on Sunday, now unable to overhaul them.
Vern Cotter's men had to work hard for the four log points, as Samoa produced their best performance of the tournament. The Pacific Islanders attacked from everywhere, keeping the ball alive in the tackle to avoid rucks and scrums.
While their discipline was also much improved, Samoa did concede five penalties that resulted in 15 points for Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, who also slotted three conversions and scored a late try.
The first half of this match was one of the most entertaining of this World Cup, with 49 points scored.
Samoa made a strong start, and deservedly opened the scoring through a Tusi Pisi penalty.
A scrum penalty allowed Laidlaw to level matters, but the Samoans surged back onto the attack from the restart, with Pisi dotting down in the right-hand corner just before being bundled into touch. The flyhalf nailed the conversion to give his side a 10-3 lead after 10 minutes.
Samoa undid all that good work when a poor looping pass from Tim Nanai-Williams, inside his 22, was knocked forward and regathered by Tommy Seymour, who scored a converted try.
But the Pacfic Islanders once again hit back from the kick-off when they regained possession and took play into Scotland's 22 before being awarded a penalty. Kahn Fotuali’i took the quick tap and the ball went wide to Manu Leiataua, who scored his side's second try.
Laidlaw clawed three points back for Scotland with a penalty, only for his side to concede another five. Rey Lee-Lo broke into the opposition 22, with his pass coming off a team-mate's legs. A few phases later and Lee-Lo went over for his first Test try.
Laidlaw and Pisi then exchanged penalties, with the latter coming after Ryan Wilson had been yellow-carded for stamping on a player at a ruck.
Scotland were able to score a try with 14 men when John Hardie went over from a lineout driving maul to make it 23-23.
Samoa thought they had scored their fourth try when Sakaria Taulafo crashed over in the 35th minute, but the TMO had spotted George Pisi pulling back a Scotland defender at the ruck. The referee went back for a penalty advantage and Pisi took the three points.
Scotland, however, turned down a shot at goal early in the second half, only to concede a penalty from the lineout driving maul.
Lee-Lo continued to torment the Scottish defence when he made another clean break, but his pass found Seymour and the try-scoring opportunity was lost.
Laidlaw sensibly went for goal on the next two occasions his side were awarded kickable penalties, to put them ahead 29-26, before missing with his next two attempts.
WP Nel was denied a 73rd-minute try when a Samoan leg prevented the ball from being grounded over the line. But the Scots were awarded a penalty and opted for a 5m scrum, from which Laidlaw darted away to score a try that made it 36-26.
There was more drama to come, with Motu Matu’u scoring Samoa's bonus-point try with two minutes to go, but Scotland were able to regain possession and wind down the clock.
Samoa – Tries: Tusi Pisi, Manu Leiataua, Rey Lee-Lo, Motu Matu’u. Conversions: Pisi, Patrick Faapale. Penalties: Pisi (3).
Scotland – Tries: Tommy Seymour, John Hardie, Greig Laidlaw. Conversions: Laidlaw (3). Penalties: Laidlaw (5).
Samoa – 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Paul Perez, 13 George Pisi, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Fa’atoina Autagavaia, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i (c), 8 Alafoti Faosiliva, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Maurie Faasavalu, 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Teofilo Paulo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Manu Leiataua, 1 Sakari Taulafo.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Vavae Tuilagi, 21 Vavao Afemai, 22 Patrick Faapale, 23 Ken Pisi.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 David Denton, 7 John Hardie, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Subs: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Lamont.
Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images