England clinch hard-fought victory against Samoa

England 26 Samoa 13
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The Independent Online

England failed to hit the heights of last week's record victory over Australia but they remained patient long enough to clinch a hard-fought win against Samoa.

Matt Banahan, making his first Test start at outside centre, and replacement flanker Tom Croft scored the tries while Toby Flood added 16 points with the boot.

But it was a long time coming. England struggled to convert a mountain of possession as Samoa produced a defiant defensive performance.

The visitors snatched the lead early in the second half with a try from full-back Paul Williams before England finally discovered their cutting edge.

Samoa had the final say with a try on the whistle from replacement Fautua Otto but England's second victory of the autumn campaign - the minimum requirement set out by new RFU chief executive John Steele - had long been sealed.

And it could be better still. Next weekend England face a South Africa side that was beaten today by Scotland.

The identity of Johnson's England is beginning to take shape, based partly on consistency of selection, and so he kept changes to a minimum following the Australia victory.

Banahan started at outside centre after winning his previous five caps on the wing while South Africa-born flanker Hendre Fourie was given his full Test debut.

With Lewis Moody rested, Nick Easter took over the captaincy while flanker James Haskell and prop David Wilson got their first starts of the autumn campaign.

England came flying out of the blocks against the Wallabies and were razor sharp in their execution but the first-half performance today showed too many familiar frailties.

Williams was gifted two early shots at goal as England conceded four penalties in an error-strewn first eight minutes and he potted one of them.

England grew into the game on the back of a powerful scrummaging performance and some incisive midfield running from Hape, who is becoming increasingly pivotal to their attacking game, and Chris Ashton.

From then until the interval, England dominated possession almost exclusively but Samoa defended for their lives - making 77 first-half tackles to England's 17 - and Johnson's men failed to translate their constant pressure into a single try.

The first opportunity was created by quick inside ball from Flood to Ashton, who pierced the Samoan defensive line before lofting a pass out wide to Cueto.

The Sale wing offloaded to Foden who stretched for the line but the television official confirmed he had just been tackled into touch by Samoa fly-half Tasea Lavea.

The Samoan scrum had Ireland under pressure last week but they could not cope with England's ferocious unit, who earned a penalty on halfway after two big shoves.

Flood went for the corner, Tom Palmer won the lineout and England drew the penalty which the fly-half slotted from in front of the posts.

The points settled England, who became more enterprising. Flood chipped over the defence for Hape, who was checked by the ubiquitous Mapasua.

Ashton, heavily involved as a midfield carrier, was involved twice as England worked their way into the Samoa 22 before Hape rescued a loose pass with a clever turn.

The Bath centre then slipped the offload to Ashton who had cut a fantastic line and surged over next to the posts only for referee Peter Fitzgibbon to rule the pass had been forward.

England kept the pressure on by winning a free-kick from the first scrum. With the Samoans creaking, Easter ordered another and then another.

From the third England moved the ball, with Hape sending Banahan forward, but earned a penalty for hands in the ruck, which Flood converted.

England should have made their forward dominance pay shortly before the interval after winning a penalty close to the line and opting for touch.

England's lineout drive was held up over the line. Samoa struggled to compete in a succession of five metre scrums, prompting referee Fitzgibbon to warn the islanders he was close to showing a yellow card.

The England pack drove through Samoa once again but they failed to control the ball at the base and another golden chance went begging.

The message to England at half time was they had to be patient.

After soaking up so much pressure in the first half, Samoa then showed England how to execute a chance in the opening moments of the second.

Hape was stripped of possession as he ran the kick-off back and Samoa piled forwards before moving play left, where Williams carved through the England defence to score the opening try.

Mapasua then tried a speculative drop goal as the Samoans, now 8-6 ahead, sniffed the chance of a famous first victory over England but the ball dropped wide.

And, finally as if being jolted into action, England found their cutting edge and Hape was the architect, with an arcing run and delayed pass to Ashton.

The England wing put his foot down, drew the last defender and slipped an inside pass for Banahan to gallop over for a try that snuffed out any last Samoan threat.

Flood converted and then missed with a penalty shot before England came agonisingly close to scoring their second try when Cueto brushed the touchline just before sending Banahan through.

But it soon came. Banahan stretched his giant 6ft 7in frame to clutch a one-handed interception before offloading for replacement scrum-half Danny Care.

Cueto, who has not scored a try in 16 Tests was screaming for the pass outside him, but Care fed Croft who scored under the posts.

Otto touched down with the final play of the game but England had the victory.