Ireland weather the Samoans' storm

Home side prove masters of appalling conditions as Joynt lays platform for historic first victory
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The Independent Online

Heavy driving rain accompanied the opening match of the Lincoln Financial Group Rugby League World Cup in Belfast yesterday, but Ireland and Samoa ensured it was anything but a damp squib at Windsor Park.

Heavy driving rain accompanied the opening match of the Lincoln Financial Group Rugby League World Cup in Belfast yesterday, but Ireland and Samoa ensured it was anything but a damp squib at Windsor Park.

Huge tackles and a slippery ball made for a tight and exciting first period which Ireland shaded, before the home side seized control in the second half to blitz Samoa and run out comfortable 30-16 winners in this Group Four encounter.

Ireland pressurised the South Sea Islanders from the first whistle, centre Michael Withers crunching Willie Swann - who lined up in the Samoa side with brother Anthony - with one low tackle. Within two minutes the home side were in front, Leeds prop Barrie McDermott bursting through two weak tackles before providing St Helens skipper Chris Joynt with the scoring pass, to which Steve Prescott added the conversion.

Samoa replied swiftly, Bryan Leauma barging his way beyond the Irish defence to plunge on Willie Swann's grubber kick. Willie Poching's conversion attempt was woeful but Samoa could take heart from breaching the Irish line.

A healthy, if unspectacular, crowd was muted at first as newcomers to the game tried to grasp the rules, but there was no mistaking the ferocity of the tackling as each big hit was met with a sharp intake of breath from the stands.

Ireland were not dominating in the way they had imagined and were also falling foul of the Australian referee, Tim Mander. Poching was given a straightforward chance to level from another Irish infringement but drifted his kick wide.

Ireland increased their advantage when Withers showed he could attack as well as he defended, cutting inside before feeding Luke Ricketson, who held off the challenge of Francis Meli to score. Prescott maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot to take Ireland eight points clear.

Samoa were stung into action and put their opponents under frantic pressure for the remainder of the half, but only had full-back Loa Milford's try to show for it. Stand-off Simon Geros took over the goal-kicking responsibilities, adding the conversion to bring Samoa within two points of Ireland at the half-time hooter.

Ireland's coach, Steve O'Neill, must have had some strong words to say during the break, for they began the second half in storming fashion. Leauma blotted his copybook by selling himself badly on the right wing to allow Michael Eager to live up to his name and skip down the touchline for Ireland's third try.

This time Samoa had no answer and to rousing cheers from the Irish fans, who were now fully behind their team, Cork-born wing Brian Carney nipped in at the other corner, although Prescott this time could not add the extra two points as he had done to Eager's earlier effort.

There was more bad news for Samoa when Fred Peterson was stretchered off after suffering a nasty blow to the head, having made what appeared an innocuous tackle 15 minutes into the second half.

As the hour-mark passed, Ireland entered the comfort zone as Prescott added a penalty before the full-back also poached a try. Ryan Sheridan bobbled a perfect kick against a post, the ball deflecting away from the Samoa cover to allow Prescott the easiest of scores.

Trailing by 20 points the game may have been lost for Samoa but they restored some pride when Monty Betham dived through some shoddy tackling to score under the posts. Samoa had no more to give after that and as the rain lashed down again, Ireland maintained their advantage to keep them on track for a place in the last eight.

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