Thomas draws the Samoans' sting

Uncompromising early tackling by the visitors fails to shake Wales' resolve as revamped hosts raise the roof
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They closed the roof for the first time on a Test in the northern hemisphere but the floodgates opened for Wales. Samoa, three times winners over the Welsh in the 1990s, were more bogus than bogey team on this occasion.

They closed the roof for the first time on a Test in the northern hemisphere but the floodgates opened for Wales. Samoa, three times winners over the Welsh in the 1990s, were more bogus than bogey team on this occasion.

An impressive attendance of around 60,000 knew they would be watching a team barely recognisable from the one that took the field in last year's World Cup pool match here. But enough about Wales, who fielded only five players from that defeat in their starting line-up, but were nevertheless described by the coach Graham Henry as his strongest side. Samoa, who cannot afford, either financially or metaphorically, Henry's mind games, were without all their stars and launched seven new caps.

Launched was the operative word. Despite the unfamiliar faces, the Samoan art of projectile tackling was alive and well. Freddie Tuilagi, the recent signing for Leicester from rugby league, narrowly missed one early challenge on Arwel Thomas, which was just as well for the Swansea outside-half making his return to the Test arena.

Having readjusted his sights, Tuilagi then targeted Rhys Williams with an unusual variation of the late tackle. This one was about a second too early as the Wales full-back shaped to field an up and under from Quintan Sanft. Off went Tuilagi for 10 minutes to ponder new ways to terrify the Wales backs and Samoa lost some of their momentum.

Thomas, with the world record points scorer Neil Jenkins looking on from the Wales bench, had potted two penalty goals in the first six minutes to settle himself in. Samoa had a chance to respond quickly but their full-back, the poetically named Happy Valley Patu, lived up to his moniker by almost cutting a groove through the turf with a scuffed penalty kick. Undaunted, Patu collected three points from the Wales 10-metre line after the home side were penalised at a ruck.

During Tuilagi's enforced absence, Thomas made it 9-3 to Wales after Colin Charvis and Scott Quinnell made good ground and Samoa eventually conceded a penalty at a scrum. Thomas then slipped Charvis into the clear with a nice inside pass but the flanker fluffed a kick ahead when he might have kept the ball in hand.

Wales gradually exerted control and Rhys Williams almost evaded the Samoan cover with an arcing outside break, then Thomas, Scott Gibbs and Mark Taylor, the new Wales captain, failed to bring off a set piece in midfield they must have worked a thousand times together at Swansea.

Thomas returned quickly to the attack with a chip into the Samoan 22 and when Seutiamalie Faasua tried to run it back he had the ball knocked from his hands by Ian Gough and only a cover tackle by the impressive Steve Sooialo prevented wing Shane Williams from scoring.

The pressure finally paid off with the first try after 34 minutes. Ben Evans had a clumsy dab at the line held up and the next charge was again repelled. But Rob Howley, like Thomas readjusting to life back at the top, switched direction from the ruck and his pass found Taylor in all the room the captain needed for a swallow dive greeted by roars of delight and some relief.

Thomas booted his fourth penalty in first-half injury time, and Sanft kicked one for Samoa four minutes into the second half. But the onus was on Wales to look for tries and they arrived in a rush of four in 20 minutes. Allan Bateman, no stranger himself to the destructive tackle, hammered into Filipo Toala and after a Gibbs charge, Thomas and Rhys Williams ran perfect angles to send Shane Williams skidding into the left corner. Then Gough claimed his first international try on the end of a wave of Welsh attacks.

Gough's new second-row partner, Deiniol Jones, was replaced by another debutant, James Griffiths. But the 25-year-old from Swansea got stage fright, lasting barely 60 seconds before heading to the sin bin for apparent use of the boot at the breakdown.

Wales forged on with 14 men, regardless, and Shane Williams claimed his second try, delighting the crowd with a couple of side steps. Bateman then roared onto a deft grubber kick by Taylor and would have scored but for being impeded by Toala. Referee Stuart Dickinson awarded the penalty try, converted by Thomas.

Shane Williams' lung-bursting chip and chase narrowly failed to deliver him his third try, but the peerless Bateman clocked up the half-century of points in injury time.

Wales: R Williams (Cardiff); A Bateman (Northampton), M Taylor (Swansea, capt), S Gibbs (Swansea), S Williams (Neath); A Thomas (Swansea), R Howley (Cardiff); I Thomas (Ebbw Vale), G Jenkins (Swansea), B Evans (Swansea), I Gough (Newport), D Jones (Ebbw Vale), G Lewis (Swansea), C Charvis (Swansea), S Quinnell (Llanelli). Replacements: S John (Cardiff) for Evans, 50; A Lewis (Cardiff) for G Jenkins, 50; J Griffiths (Swansea) for Jones, 55; N Budgett (Ebbw Vale) for Quinnell, 66; R Moon (Llanelli) for Howley, 69; N Jenkins (Cardiff) for A Thomas, 69; D James (Llanelli) for Gibbs, 72.

Samoa: H Patu (Vaialla); T Faasua (Otahuhu), F Soolefai (Taranaki), F Tuilagi (Leicester), F Toala (La Rochelle); Q Sanft (Ponsonby), S Sooialo (Western Suburbs); T Veiru (West Harbour), O Matauiau (Hawkes Bay, capt), P Asi (Moataa), O Palepoi (Norths), S Poching (Otahuhu), A Vaeluaga (Otahuhu), L Mealamu (Otahuhu), J Maligi (Marist St Joseph's). Replacements: M Schwalser (Taradale) for Matauiau, 28; S Tone (Manurewa) for Palepoi, 50; J Mamea (Apia Maroons) for Mealeamu, 62; D Tafeamalii (Vaiala) for Veiru, 68.

Referee: S Dickinson (Aus).

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