Kangaroos overpower brave islanders

Rugby League World Cup: Empty stands for awesome Aussies as quarter-final fails to fire public's imagination
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The Independent Online

We watched history of a sort at Vicarage Road yester- day, though the significance of the moment doubtless passed the locals by. This was the first ever quarter-final in the history of the World Cup, all previous competitions having leap-frogged straight from the group phase to the semi-finals. Not that the atmosphere exactly reflected the enormity of the occasion.

We watched history of a sort at Vicarage Road yester- day, though the significance of the moment doubtless passed the locals by. This was the first ever quarter-final in the history of the World Cup, all previous competitions having leap-frogged straight from the group phase to the semi-finals. Not that the atmosphere exactly reflected the enormity of the occasion.

A crowd of 5,404 was poor return on the organisers' brave ambition of bringing rugby league to every corner of the land, and if neither the transport system nor the weather gods have quite co-operated in the venture, the main lesson learnt from the Lincoln World Cup is that courage alone is not enough. To sell tickets, you need a lot of hard graft and a marketing strategy which should stretch further than attaching the name of a sponsor to the announcer's explanation of the referee's decisions.

The sadness for the game is that the empty terraces and some lopsided scorelines have obscured the excellence of much of the rugby. The Australians have yet to capture the imagination of the uncommitted, who are far too busy hoping for a hint of weakness to appreciate the myriad strengths of one of the most awesome teams to emerge from the southern hemisphere. With luck, the Kangaroos' mettle will be more severely tested in the semi-finals.

Yesterday was a case in point. Their victory, by 66-10, was casually won, yet too error-strewn to be entirely satisfctory - and when, in one of the sweeter moments of the afternoon, David Solomona scurried over on a diagonal run from 15 metres to record only the second try against the Australians in the tournament the acclaim that the ponytailed second-row forward received suggested that his ancestors once inhabited Hemel Hempstead.

One way or another, this was going to be a memorable day in the annals of Samoan sport, the national equivalent of those all-embracing sporting afternoons at school. First XV v Wales (away), First XIII v Australia (away) and David Tua v Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight championship of the world. What price the Trifecta at 3pm yesterday afternoon? On form, Tua at least had a puncher's chance; Samoa, physically fearsome though they may be and inspired by a menacing rendition of their haka before kick-off, were not even blessed with that luxury.

To be fair to the South Sea Islanders, the conditions were not entirely favourable to an execution of their coach's ambitious strategy. But, never mind that they were 6,000 miles from home, the Samoans would stay true to their ball-playing roots.

And when their opening attack was pulled up inches short of the Australian line - the subsequent television replay confirmed that the ball had not been grounded - there was a suggestion that the freeform Samoans might disturb any Australian complacency. The thought lasted as long as it took the Australians to surge into the range of the Samoans' line, Ryan Girdler finishing off a passing move of fluidity by taking Robbie Kearns' pass for the first of their four tries before half-time.

By then, Australia had established an easy authority, threatening to score with every attack and, as the Samoans began to look increasingly bedraggled in driving rain, running in a series of scores which varied from the ordinary to the thrilling. Two in three minutes midway through the first half, by the captain, Brad Fittler, and Bryan Fletcher, effectively destroyed the Samoans' resistance, and Andrew Johns bulldozed over just after the break to turn the second half into a test of character for the underdogs and another exhibition for the champions.

Wendell Sailor scored his obligatory try, his seventh of the tournament, and the flow of tries by Johns, Adam MacDougall and Hill, with two apiece, and Fletcher, who also scored twice to complete his hat-trick - with nine conversions by Matt Rogers - was only stemmed briefly by a breakaway which brought Bryan Leauma Samoa's second try and the scoreboard a temporary air of credibility.

Papua New Guinea or Wales have the dubious pleasure of being next in line for the Australians in the semi-final in Huddersfield next Sunday evening.

Australia: D Lockyer (Brisbane Broncos); M Rogers (Cronulla Sharks), R Girdler (Penrith Panthers), M Gidley (Newcastle Knights), W Sailor (Brisbane Broncos); B Fittler (Sydney City) B Kimmorley (Melbourne Storm); S Webcke (Brisbane Broncos), A Johns (Newcastle Knights), R Kearns (Melbourne Storm), G Tallis (Brisbane Broncos), B Fletcher (Sydney City), S Hill (Melbourne Storm). Substitutes: A MacDougall (Newcastle Knights), J Croker (Canberra Raiders), D Britt (Canterbury Bulldogs), J Stevens (Cronulla Sharks).

Samoa: L Milford (Balmain Tigers); B Leauma (Penrith Panthers), A Swann (Canberra Raiders), S Laloata (Nelson Bay Blues), P Lima (Toulouse); H Fa'afili (Auckland Warriors), W Swann (Hunslet Hawks); F Puletua (Penrith Panthers), M Betham (Auckland Warriors), J Seu Seu (Auckland Warriors), D Solomona (Sydney City), P Leuluai (Auckland Warriors), W Poching (Wakefield Wildcats). Substitutes: T Tatupu (Wakefield Wildcats), M Leafa (Canterbury Bulldogs), M Fala (Northcote Tigers), F Meli (Auckland Warriors).

Referee: S Cummings (England)

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