The bit-part players of Ireland showed what can be achieved with fierce determination and commitment as they moved to within one game of a World Cup semi-final against Australia. The Irish, supposedly only here to make up the cast in their pool, managed to win it with a superb display, the Wigan winger Pat Richards leading the way with 22 points, including a hat-trick of tries.
Ireland will now play Fiji on the Gold Coast next Monday, with the Aussies waiting for the winners. In the euphoria here, even that did not seem such a daunting prospect. This victory was particularly sweet for Richards, a Parramatta local who qualifies for Ireland through two Dublin-born parents. "We just believed in each other," he said. "Tonight was very, very special."
Coach Andy Kelly said that his side had learnt from the creditable defeat to Tonga nine days earlier. "The amount of pride I feel is going to break me open," he said. "We came into this game believing we could win it."
Ireland achieved that win over a physically formidable Samoa with a squad of players liberally laced with part-timers from the National Leagues. "They've lost money by being here," said the Irish team manager, Terry O'Connor. "Nobody is paying them to take four weeks off work."
The spirit running through this bunch of players from so many levels of the game was tested from the outset, because Samoa made a ferocious start, having two tries disallowed and bombing another in the first few minutes. That set the tone for some magnificent defence and when their chance came to attack there was no stopping them. Richards, Simon Finnigan and Sean Gleeson scored three tries in seven minutes for a 14-point lead, and the overwhelming favourites to win this match and the group were rocked.
They came back with tries from Nigel Vagana and Misi Taulapapa before half-time, but a Richards penalty kept Irish noses in front. Crucially, they also scored first after the break, with long passes from Michael Platt and Karl Fitzpatrick putting Richards over in the corner for his second.
Liam Finn's try, from a kick by the influential Scott Grix, put the Irish into a position from which they could hardly lose and even David Solomona's close-range try for Samoa was soon wiped out by Richards' third, from Finn's clever kick.
Ireland, who developed a strong sense of grievance at having to fly out here economy class, will not be seeking an upgrade for the unscheduled short hop to the Gold Coast. "We'll stay with the chickens and the goats," said Kelly. "That's served us well."
Ireland: Platt; Blanch, Gleeson, Littler, Richards; Grix, Finn; O'Carroll, Beswick, Haggerty, Harrison, Doran, Finnigan. Substitutes used: McIlorum, Fitzpatrick, Kerr, Tandy.
Samoa: Samau; Utai, Talau, Carmont, Meli; Vagana, Roberts; McDade, Seuseu, T Puletua, Setu, Lauitiiti, Hansen. Substitutes used: F Puletua, Solomona, Paulo, Taulapapa.
Referee: T Alibert (France).