England’s players joined their Samoan opposition in a respectful huddle at the final whistle but with due respect to the hard-up Pacific Islanders, who had lost all six previous meetings with their hosts by double-digit margins, this was always going to be the gimme fixture of the autumn series.
The near capacity crowd lapped up two tries by Jonny May and another for Mike Brown under the floodlights in this test event for evening kick-offs at next year’s World Cup. Worryingly, though, there were few definitive answers to the questions raised by England’s performances in the past fortnight’s losses to New Zealand and South Africa, and only the bluntest shot in the arm ahead of what must be regarded as a must-win match with Australia next Saturday.
George Ford’s dad, the Bath head coach Mike, had hot-footed it from his club’s Premiership win over London Irish in Reading, that finished about two hours before kick-off here, to take his seat alongside his wife Sally-Anne and together take in their son’s first start for England after four previous caps off the bench.
The 21-year-old fly-half reacted confidently to the challenge, pulling strings in attack - with his long-time pal Owen Farrell shifted into the centres to accommodate him - and kicking all but one of his goals. Ford will surely keep his place against Australia; the makeup of the backline, per se, remains wildly uncertain, partly due to injuries.
England 28 Samoa 9 player ratings
England 28 Samoa 9 player ratings
1/16 Mike Brown - 6
Enjoyed scoring his try, unusually a couple of high balls went astray and knocked on during a promising first-half attack. Did not reach the high standard achieved a week earlier against the Springboks.
2/16 Anthony Watson - 6
Far more involved than a week earlier and contributed significantly to Brown's try. A potent threat that England need to use more but still learning the game at elite level
3/16 Brad Barritt - 5
A midfield rock who must still be uncertain what is going on around him. Makes his tackles, attacking ploys limited - grub kicks did not come off - but needs a consistent partner
4/16 Owen farrell - 5
Threw himself into breakdowns with usual gusto but still limited coherence in the midfield attack. Important role in first England try but another game - against better opposition - needed to validate his place
5/16 Jonny May - 7
After nine-minute rest for a blood injury, returned to run straight and true for his first-half try. Second try a walk-in but showed there's no substitute for raw pace and consolidated place
6/16 George Ford - 7
Did well on first start, steadied the first-half ship, kicked goals when it mattered and showed himself an attacking threat with front-foot ball. Made his tackles too for a good evening's work
7/16 Ben Youngs - 5
Undemonstrative return to the starting jersey, oiling the works for others. Greater accuracy with his kicking needed, England are still not testing opponents under the high ball enough
8/16 Joe Marler - 6
Part of a sound scrum which squeezed out two early penalties. Samoa never found a way round this set-piece boulder and Marler showed his customary zeal in loose play, as ball-handler and tackler
9/16 Rob Webber - 6
Another hard-working game, good set-piece work and justified his selection ahead of Dylan Hartley. Did not get his hands on the ball as much as he does at Bath but deserves another opportunity
10/16 David Wilson - 7
Did all of the above and also showed flare as a defender by covering back and stifling a Samoa attack down the left flank. He and Marler left early to give game time to replacements
11/16 Dave Attwood - 6
Another perfect lineout display by England, in which Attwood played full part. Greater first-half fluidity would have given him more chances in loose play and missed a try at the end by knocking on
12/16 Courtney Lawes - 6
Equal contribution to Attwood at lineout time and ran the ball effectively. Can be pleased with his showing after taking that heavy knock against New Zealand first time out
13/16 James Haskell - 6
Typically industrious showing from a player bursting to find a regular starting place. Over-eagerness accounted for concession of penalties but covered the ground well and aggressive in the tackle
14/16 Chris Robshaw - 7
Named man of the match for doing everything he does every week. Important lineout presence and good hands in May's second try, bustled around the field to great effect and made over 20 tackles
15/16 Ben Morgan
Would have liked to make a greater impact. England need more potent running from their big men and though Morgan lifted his game after the break, he became a bit lost as the game broke up
England used all their bench, of whom George Kruis made the greatest impact. The Saracens lock stole one lineout, popped up in midfield more than once and has made a distinct impression. Marland Yarde made one flaring run as May's first-half replacement and returned eager for more but the game had broken up by the time the rest of the bench appeared.
The solitary first-half try England constructed after 19 minutes was a thing of flawed beauty, riddled with so many question marks that while the television match official Simon McDowell was going through his review, the Samoan players marched upfield to await a restart. But they were wrong.
McDowell and referee Jaco Peyper decided that, as England thrust into midfield from a line-out palm-down by Courtney Lawes just inside the Samoan half, there was firstly no illegal block by Brad Barritt and secondly no forward pass as Brown popped a scoring inside pass to May, who ran to the posts. Brown had received the ball smartly from Ford, as the new No.10 ran a sweet looparound move with Farrell, showing a little of empathy or maybe even telepathy that England were expecting from the Lancashire lads who first clapped eyes on each other on opposing sides in under-12s rugby league 10 years ago, inaugurated a 10-12 partnership in union for England’s under-16s in 2008, and reprised it for the 18s and 20s.
Ford’s conversion had England 10-3 up, and the gap was the same at the interval after a penalty each by Tusi Pisi and Ford, although the latter missed one in added time from long range. Pisi had kicked Samoa into the lead in the third minute after England went offside form a line-out, one of a few blunders that included a quickly tapped drop out by the captain Chris Robshaw that was immediately turned over.
On the flipside the Samoan scrum came under fearful pressure from an England pack containing three men promoted in response to the previous setbacks: Rob Webber, James Haskell and Ben Morgan. Two of Ford’s three-pointers before the break were given against the Samoa pack not scrummaging straight and wheeling respectively.
What England wanted to see was something a little more smooth and impressive from the backs, with Ben Youngs at scrum-half for Danny Care having been the other alteration made by head coach Stuart Lancaster, and they had their wish five minutes into the second half. Samoa conceded a penalty at a line-out, and as England played with the advantage, Ford cross-kicked from the 22-metre line to his club-mate Anthony Watson, who beat his man with a knifing sidestep and unselfishly offloaded for Brown to score.
Ford, who had already collected his third penalty to put England 16-6 up, kicked the conversion to end any idea of an upset by the Samoans, who had claimed to be invigorated by the build-up spent arguing with their own union and threatening a boycott. A third penalty by Pisi on 50 minutes was almost their last serious contribution in the England half.
Ford would know better than anyone that Farrell had done the harder yards in this series by facing up to the world’s two top teams All Blacks and Springboks the last two weeks, while probably being short of full fitness.
Facing the Samoans, who are ranked a much more modest 11th, mostly allowed Ford precious extra seconds to plot his moves – though he twice had to pick himself up from bone-shuddering tackles by the second row Teofilo Paulo and centre Johnny Leota. The front-on tackle by Leota of Sale Sharks – he was one of 10 English-based players in Samoa’s squad – was judged worthy of a yellow card in the 52nd minute. Very soon afterwards England, exploiting the one-man advantage, had their third try, and May’s third of the autumn as the Gloucester wing was on the end of straightforward handling right to left along the line from a rolling maul.
That left a full quarter of the match, and then some, for England to add points but they failed to do so, instead emptying the bench and presumably girdling their loins for the old-enemy Wallabies.
England: M Brown; A Watson, B Barritt, O Farrell (B Twelvetrees 65), J May (M Yarde 61); G Ford, B Youngs (R Wigglesworth 64); J Marler (M Mullan 59), R Webber (D Hartley 70), D Wilson (K Brookes 59), D Attwood, C Lawes (G Kruis 54), J Haskell (T Wood 68), C Robshaw (capt), B Morgan.
Samoa: K Pisi; A Leiua, R Lee Lo, J Leota, D Lemi (capt); T Pisi (M Stanley 69), K Fotuali’i; S Taulafo (V Afatia 78), Ti’i Paulo (M Leiataua 61), C Johnston (A Perenise 56), Teofilo Paulo (D Leo 52), K Thompson (F Lemalu 62), M Fa’asavalu, J Lam (TJ Ioane 56), O Treviranus.
Referee: J Peyper (South Africa).Reuse content