England 40 Samoa 3: Sense of persecution assails Samoa despite red card for Moody

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The Independent Online

The South African referee Mark Lawrence used the word "discipline" so often during his whistle-happy performance in the last of this year's Twickenham internationals that the grandees of the Rugby Football Union must have wondered whether Miss Whiplash had been appointed by mistake. The trouble with Lawrence was that he flatly refused to swing both ways, so to speak. He barely said a word to England until he brandished a red card in the direction of Lewis Moody late in the game. The Samoans, meanwhile, ended the fixture suffering from collective earache.

In the considered opinion of Michael Jones, the great All Black flanker who has coached the islanders since the last World Cup, Lawrence contributed handsomely to the explosion of pugilistic fury in the closing minutes of an increasingly one-side fixture with his peculiar brand of patronising pernicketiness. "My guys aren't dumb," said the celebrated Aucklander. "They have a perfectly good knowledge of the rules and an understanding of how far they can take things. I think there was real frustration out there. I think the referee got on the nerves of the Samoan players.

"It seems to me that too often the supposed weaker teams are watched more closely than the perceived stronger ones - that they are penalised more often because they are assumed to be technically inferior. I know that when I was an All Black, decisions tended to go our way when we were playing the smaller nations. From where I sit, it is apparent that we get a pretty rough deal at times. There are generally two sides to a story, and it does not surprise me that frustration grows when this isn't taken into account."

There is enough food for thought here to lay on a philosophers' banquet. Jones is not one of rugby's chancers - no more honourable man ever set foot on the field of play - and he is not a great one for criticising officialdom. In this instance, he was not seeking to blame his team's heavy defeat on Lawrence's interpretation of who was doing what to whom as England took control of proceedings after a scratchy first half, although he felt the final score to be an injustice. He was simply arguing from a different perspective to those who will rush to condemn the Samoans as unacceptably violent in their approach to a sport that is quite punishing enough when people stick to the rules.

Events towards the end of Saturday's encounter unfolded in the following way. Mark Cueto, who had already been felled by a hang-'em-high tackle from Tanner Vili, collected a diagonal kick from Charlie Hodgson in full flight and a good three feet off the floor, only to be dumped on his head by Alesana Tuilagi. This was too much for the Sale wing, who ran towards his assailant in the way the Germanic hordes charged the Romans at the start of Gladiator. Tuilagi met him with a jab to the jaw, at which point Moody rained retaliatory punches on the big Samoan from the rear. Everything kicked off then, and the disciplinary officer who succeeds in making sense of a mass dust-up involving at least a dozen players is a clever man indeed.

Moody certainly landed his fair share of right hooks, hence the red card - the first time an England player has been sent off at Twickenham, and only the fourth member of the red rose army to be dismissed in a Test anywhere in the world. Tuilagi, who also received the ultimate sanction, could not complain either. Citings may follow, as Jones was the first to concede. The Samoan captain, Semo Sititi, was among the more enthusiastic combatants, and he will be fortunate to escape sporting prosecution.

While Cueto deplored both the tackles that had him seething, and given the fact that his disappearance into the red mist led directly to Moody's disgrace, the England coach, Andy Robinson, could not quite bring himself to condemn those who seek to defend colleagues. For his part, Jones accused Moody of inflaming the situation by aiming cheap shots at Tuilagi.

"It is in the culture of Samoan rugby that we do not like being king-hit from behind," he said. "It's not nice. Something was awry during the second half because a consummate professional like Semo doesn't get involved without a very good reason."

Given the fact that Moody and Tuilagi are team-mates at Leicester, training at Welford Road should be fun over the next few days. "I won't be there to see it because I'm off abroad with the England sevens team," said the rookie wing Tom Varndell, another Tiger. "Maybe someone will video it for me." Leicester always get a full house for a first-team match, and have been known to attract a 10,000 gate for their second-string. From now on, the practice sessions will be all-ticket.

If it was good to see Varndell claiming a try on his international debut - an almost comical effort that owed something to his unnatural pace and a whole lot more to the butter-fingered frailties of Lome Fa'atau - the most heart-warming aspect of England's performance was Charlie Hodgson's authoritative display at outside-half. He also scored a try, sneaking around the short side of a shambolic scrum and diving in at the left flag, but it bordered on the peripheral. Hodgson's kicking game was the real jewel, together with his offloads in contact, many of which were of New Zealand quality.

There was some sharp finishing from Tom Voyce on the left wing, although the first of his tries was the direct result of some offside opportunism from the excellent Pat Sanderson, and a solo effort from Harry Ellis, who ran diagonally to the posts unchallenged by a Samoan defence dispirited by Lawrence's constant penalty calls and fractured by the absences of Vili and Justin Va'a, both of whom were in the sin-bin.

But there was precious little sign of the midfield finding its feet. Mike Tindall does not look like an inside centre capable of stunning the world - or indeed, like an inside centre at all. As for James Simpson-Daniel... well, he injured himself. Again. Having failed to put himself on the end of a pass worthy of the name during the course of a first half in which the most accomplished centre turned out to be an Auckland University student by the name of Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, he suffered a hip injury later described as "innocuous" and retired from the match. "It was the icing on my cake of disappointment," he said, metaphors in full flow.

England will have to address this issue sooner rather than later, and if it means moving Josh Lewsey up from full-back, so be it. Not that they should be worried, for their problems are as nothing compared to those faced by the Samoans.

"If we have to be twice as law-abiding as everyone else just to get treated the same, then that's what we'll do," said Jones. Maybe then, even Lawrence might give them an even break.

England: J Lewsey (Wasps); M Cueto (Sale), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), M Tindall (Gloucester), T Voyce (Wasps); C Hodgson (Sale), H Ellis (Leicester); A Sheridan (Sale), S Thompson (Northampton), M Stevens (Bath), L Deacon (Leicester), S Borthwick (Bath), P Sanderson (Worcester), L Moody (Leicester), M Corry (Leicester, capt). Replacements: P Freshwater (Perpignan) for Sheridan, 22; L Mears (Bath) for Thompson, 40; O Barkley (Bath) for Simpson-Daniel, 40; J Forrester (Gloucester) for Moody, 59-66; for Corry 78; T Varndell (Leicester) for Lewsey, 64; S Shaw (Wasps) for Deacon, 64.

Samoa: S Tagicakibau (Taranaki); L Fa'atau (Wellington), E Seveali'i (Sale), E Fuimaono-Sapolu (Auckland Univ), A Tuilagi (Leicester); T Vili (Kintetsu), S So'oialo (Harlequins); J Va'a (Wellington), M Schwalger (Wellington), C Johnston (Taranaki), D Leo (Queensland), F Taele-Pavihi (Otago), L Lafaialai'i (Bayonne), S Sititi (Borders, capt), D Farani (Coventry). Replacements: K Lealamanua (Biarritz) for Johnston, 64; P Tupai (Bay of Plenty) for Taele-Pavihi, 65; Johnston for Farani 66-79.

Referee: M Lawrence (South Africa).

Red cards for red rose army: ENGLAND'S TEST DISMISSALS

Lewis Moody v Samoa, Twickenham, 2005

Simon Shaw v New Zealand, Auckland, 2004

Danny Grewcock v New Zealand, Dunedin, 1998

Mike Burton v Australia, Brisbane, 1975