England, albeit a little hesitantly at the outset, were cantering to a five-try victory when their flanker Lewis Moody was shown the red card for punching in an incident which also saw the dismissal of his Leicester Tigers club-mate, the Samoan wing Alesana Tuilagi.
Moody's offence, which made him the first England player sent off at Twickenham, and the fourth in Tests overall, was a retaliatory volley of punches after Tuilagi's tackle had sent Mark Cueto spinning into the air. Cueto got up in angry confrontation, Tuilagi caught him with a right hook and Moody stepped in with a couple of rabbit punches to the back of Tuilagi's head.
A mass mêlée followed which is likely to keep the independent citing commissioner busy today, with Samoa's captain, Semo Sititi, particularly prominent in the flying fur. Moody will plead the obvious mitigation but he was cited and banned for six weeks for punching in an A league match for Leicester in September, and could face up to six months out.
The irony was that Tuilagi's challenge was by no means the most flagrant example of Samoa's heavy hitting. Cueto's attempt to skip around his opponent contributed to the dangerous up-and-over effect. What happened next was explained by England's captain, Martin Corry, as brothers in arms banding together.
"We're developing a team spirit that means going out to support your mates," said Corry. "You don't always know what will happen."
New Zealand are rightly criticised for never visiting their Pacific neighbours but the flag of St George has never waved in Samoa - not in the rugby sense - and it was a decade since the blue jerseys had appeared at HQ. There has been more regular contact with victims of bird flu.
Given their big chance the Samoans were expected to tackle hugely and, sadly, they now face familiar allegations of doing it illegally, too.
They were already slackening in the set-piece after the second of Tom Voyce's tries gave England a 23-3 lead after 52 minutes, and had a spell down to 13 men even before the late flare-up. The prop Justin Va'a was shown the yellow card for being unable to keep the scrummage up, and Tanner Vili went to the sin-bin for a chin-high tackle on Cueto, which contributed greatly to the general ill-feeling. "It got a bit ugly but I'm feeling a bit sore for Lewis as he was just stepping in for me," said Cueto.
"Alesana dropped his head to tackle and it was one of those split-second things," said Samoa's coach, Michael Jones. "The guys do hit really hard." Jones's side also came very close to scoring one of the tastiest tries against England for many a day. Eliota Fuimano-Sapolu made a solo break from his 22 in the 35th minute and it was his misfortune that the supporting Lome Fa'atau had too much gas for his own good. Fuimano-Sapolu was forced to chip ahead rather than pass and the bounce favoured the covering Josh Lewsey.
Otherwise England's line defence was unforgiving, and helped build a record win over Samoa. Something the home side do not share with New Zealand is strength in depth but by the end there were four new caps awarded, which ticked the box marked experimentation. One of them, Tom Varndell, finished the try-scoring off with his second touch two minutes from time.
England's muscle up front was never going to be in doubt - not even when Andrew Sheridan was removed from the front row after 20 minutes with a twisted ankle.
The principal focus was on the backs, and they claimed all the tries which were going - in addition to Voyce's double, the first of which came after 24 minutes from a sharp counter-attack, there were second-half scores for Charlie Hodgson and Harry Ellis.
But the centre positions remain vexing. Any hopes that James Simpson-Daniel would provide a spark were rudely dampened. There was a great gasp when Simpson-Daniel finally got the ball in space in the 28th minute, but the gasp came from the Gloucester No 13 as he was hammered in a tackle by Sailosi Tagicakibau. The man nicknamed Sinbad sailed away at half-time with an injured hip.
The other three debutants were in the forwards. Lee Mears and Perry Freshwater did their bit in the front row while Louis Deacon combined with Steve Borthwick to dominate the line-out. From a seventh-minute throw, Cueto went through a gap from Mike Tindall's inside pass but Simpson-Daniel was looking the wrong way when Lewsey tried to continue the move. Samoa dropped the resulting scrum and Hodgson made it 3-0.
By half-time it was 16-3, with Hodgson kicking two more penalties and converting Voyce's opening try. Voyce went in again when a series of scrums preceded Hodgson's beautifully disguised scoring pass.
Hodgson, who finished with 15 points from the boot and surely a surging confidence in his own abilities after the autumn series, claimed a try on the short side of a ruck from a flipped-up pass by Ellis in the 64th minute. It came in between the two Samoan yellow cards and, before an indignant Twickenham saw red, England were home and dry with Ellis arcing his way delightedly to the posts.
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), S Borthwick (Bath), L Deacon (Leicester), P Sanderson (Worcester), M Corry (Leicester, capt), L Moody. Replacements: P Freshwater (Perpignan) for Sheridan, 20; O Barkley (Bath) for Simpson-Daniel, 40; L Mears (Bath) for Thompson, 40; J Forrester (Gloucester) for Moody 56-61; for Corry, 70; S Shaw (Wasps) for Deacon, 60; T Varndell (Leicester) for Lewsey, 60.
Samoa: S Tagicakibau (Chiefs); L Fa'atau (Marist St Pats), E Seveali'i (Sale), E Fuimaono-Sapolu (Auckland University), Alesana Tuilagi (Leicester); T Vili (Kintetsu Liners), S So'oialo (Harlequins); J Va'a (Upper Hutt), M Schwalger (Wellington), C Johnston (Taranaki), D Leo (Sunny Bay), P Taele-Pavihi (Otago), L Lafaiali'i (Bayonne), D Farani (Coventry), S Sititi (Borders, capt). Replacements: L Tafunai (Vaiala) for Johnston, 40; P Tupai (Bay of Plenty) for Taele-Pavihi, 62; Johnston for Farani, 61-70.
Referee: M Lawrence (South Africa).Reuse content