The sigh of relief could be heard all the way back to the valleys as Wales finally broke their World Cup jinx against Samoa. Memories of their seismic defeat to the "western half" of the Pacific nation almost exactly 20 years ago flooded back here in Hamilton yesterday as Samoa threatened to achieve a hat-trick of upsets against Wales.
The Welsh dragons wheezed their way through the first half after failing to find the same fire as the previous week against South Africa, before Shane Williams, as so many times before, popped up in the right place at the right time to score the try that could ultimately steer his team to the quarter-finals.
It was a spluttering and nervous performance that did little to suggest Wales would get the better of Ireland should they meet in the last eight, as could well now be the case. But coach Warren Gatland, grateful for a winning return to his hometown, was unmoved by the details of his team's display after negotiating their way past the considerable hurdle posed by Samoa.
"This was a must-win game so I don't care about the performance, I only care about the result," said Gatland defiantly. "To do well in the World Cup you need a bit of luck and [to] show character and we did that to come back from behind. At half-time the boys knew their whole World Cup rested on digging deep. A few years ago – or even 12 months ago – we might not have won that game. But the longer the game went on, the fitter and stronger we looked.
"We probably put ourselves under pressure by trying to play too much rugby in the first half. We wasted opportunities that could have made it more comfortable. But the result comes first and qualification is in our own hands now. We're pretty happy with where we are and if we win our next two games we could be looking at Ireland in the quarter-finals."
Victory here, however, may have come at a heavy price after both James Hook and Dan Lydiate were taken to hospital for scans on injuries. Lydiate limped off after just 10 minutes, after rolling his ankle, and was replaced by Andy Powell, who appeared unable to do two things – such as running and catching – at the same time.
The Sale Sharks No 8 did contribute with a hefty challenge on George Stowers in the final moments that snuffed out a late Samoan charge, but losing Lydiate for future games would be a significant blow.
The Wales defence coach, Shaun Edwards, said: "We don't know the extent of the injuries yet but it would be a big loss to lose either player. Dan is my favourite player in the squad and as defence coach, that says it all. Andy put in some big tackles but Dan is probably the hardest hitter in the team so we were bound to miss him."
Hook failed to reappear for the second half after taking a heavy blow to his shoulder, though he had struggled to work his way into the game, cast away at full-back.
Rhys Priestland assumed the kicking duties and had just put Wales 12-10 ahead when replacement Leigh Halfpenny injected a combination of pace and direction that Wales had lacked. The young wing's natural survival instincts saw him duck under three would-be tacklers before setting off on a blistering run from defence.
Jonathan Davies took on the move but looked to have blown the chance when he ignored Halfpenny's cries for too long before lobbing a basketball-style pass to no one in particular. Just when the opportunity appeared to have vanished, Williams darted in from seemingly nowhere, scooping up possession with one hand to touch down in the left corner. It was his eighth try in as many appearances at the World Cup, though few were more important as this.
The Wales prop Adam Jones said: "I asked Shane before the game if he was going to score and he said he had a feeling that he was. I'm gutted because I should have put some money on him. He always seems to score when it's needed most."
Jamie Roberts produced another performance of British Lions class, though his early touchdown was ruled out after a forward pass by Luke Charteris. Samoa, forced to play two games in five days, were also unhappy at referee Alain Rolland for ruling out an early try by Maurie Faasavalu for a double movement. Captain Mahonri Schwalger said: "I asked the ref to go the video official but he didn't. It could have been a turning point in the game but that was one of a few times the referee was pretty harsh on us. Wales played all right but we didn't take our chances."
Wales: Try S Williams; Penalties J Hook (2), R Priestland (2). Samoa: Try A Perenise; Conversion P Williams; Penalty P Williams
Wales J Hook (L Halfpenny, h-t); G North, J Davies, J Roberts, S Williams; R Priestland, M Phillips; P James (G Jenkins, 62), H Bennett (L Burns, 62), A Jones, L Charteris, A W Jones (B Davies, 68), D Lydiate (A Powell, 10), T Faletau, S Warburton (capt).
Samoa P Williams; S Tagicakibau (J So'oialo, 55), G Pisi, S Mapasua (E Fuimaono, 69), A Tuilagi; T Lavea (J Sua, 68), K Fotuali'i; S Taulafo, M Schwalger (capt, T Paulo, 72), A Perenise (C Johnston, 69), D Leo, K Thompson (J Tekori, 68), O Treviranus (M Salavea, 76), G Stowers, M Faasavalu.
Referee A Rolland (Ireland).Reuse content