Samoa lose but put England's Back out

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England 44

Western Samoa 22

England finally produced a performance worthy of their status among the World Cup favourites when they outplayed the Samoans at King's Park last night. But however restorative, it was a victory achieved at considerable cost: Neil Back is out of the tournament and Graham Rowntree may be too.

Indeed the attrition rate was such that both sides used four replacements - one more than allowed for in the tournament regulations but in accordance with new International Board rules - and England also needed a temporary substitute when one of their replacements, Tim Rodber, cut his head.

Punished as they may have been physically, psychologically England received precisely the lift they had wanted, and increasingly needed, since their World Cup had begun with the fortuitous win over Argentina.

Despite fielding a deliberately weakened side in order to rest key players and assess others, this was a thoroughly convincing performance that stemmed from vastly improved forward play which was augmented by a boldness and vision behind the scrum which had been notably absent against the Argentines and to a lesser extent Italy.

"We have contributed to one or two sterile games, but we have now cut loose in one of the most exciting," Jack Rowell, the manager, said, admitting that his delight was tempered by considerable relief. Having finished at the head of Group B, England go on to meet Australia, the holders, in Sunday's quarter-final in Cape Town, while the Samoans must face South Africa in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Given that England are trying to play dynamic, highly mobile rugby of a kind not usually associated with Dean Richards, it is extraordinary the effect he has on his team-mates simply by his presence. This was his first appearance of the tournament and he drew his forwards to him like a mother-hen until he hurt his neck - but not, thank goodness, his suspect hamstring - towards the end.

Instead the hamstring problem is Back's, while Rowntree has a calf injury. A decision will be taken this morning before the squad move to Jo'burg for the week on whether to summon stand-by players such as John Hall, although if the management want ones who are match-fit they will be looking to the England A squad touring Australia, possibly Rob Hardwick at prop and Lawrence Dallaglio in the back row.

Last night England signalled their newly positive intent from the start, Back scoring their first try with only 95 seconds elapsed. Steve Ojomoh's line-out win was the prelude to charges by Victor Ubogu and the outstanding Dewi Morris, and when Morris was hit by a crunching tackle the ball was mauled to Back.

During the rest of the first half England steadily built on this early advantage. The conversion of the first try was the only one of nine kicks at goal Jonathan Callard missed and by half-time he had added two penalties as well as converting Rory Underwood's first try.

This was created by rugby of a sort England have been talking about without producing. The Samoan defence was drawn in by two rucks and a surging run by Tim Rodber ended with Ian Hunter freeing Underwood. With Mike Catt, an unexpected success standing in at stand-off for Rob Andrew, dropping a goal, England changed round 21 points to the good.

It was immediately shown to be too good to be true when Samoa's replacement outside-half, Fata Sini, carved up the England defence for two tries in the first 11 minutes of the second half. Sini converted both and landed a penalty so that from a position of comfort England found their lead reduced to a precarious seven points.

This was a real moment of crisis for England, but they emerged from it with immense credit. Even the Barmy Army had been silenced by the fightback, but they were encouraged to yell and bawl again when the Samoans killed a ruck with England's backs ranged in scoring formation outside and Patrick Robin awarded a penalty try.

They were never again in peril. Superbly accurate interplay between Ubogu, Morris and Richards sent Underwood scything past the Samoans to extend his England tries' record to 45 and though the Samoans had a final fling which brought a late try by Mike Umaga, Callard kept kicking his goals.

"Once again it was a case of a good big man will always beat a good small man," Bryan Williams, Western Samoa's technical adviser, said - which was less than generous to England. For once the forward bludgeon was used in sympathetic combination with the three-quarter rapier and Carling's team will move on to Cape Town next Saturday with their confidence higher than they had dared to hope.

ENGLAND: J Callard (Bath); I Hunter (Northampton), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), P de Glanville (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); M Catt (Bath), D Morris (Orrell); G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe, V Ubogu (both Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), R West (Gloucester), S Ojomoh (Bath), D Richards, N Back (Leicester). Replacements: J Mallett (Bath) for Rowntree, 25; T Rodber (Northampton) for Back, 33; D Hopley (Wasps) for Carling, 70; K Bracken (Bristol) for Richards 73. Temporary substitute: B Moore (Harlequins) for Rodber 73-76.

WESTERN SAMOA: M Umaga (Wellington); B Lima (Ponsonby), T Vaega (Moata'a), T Fa'amasino (Vaimoso), G Leuapepe (Counties); E Puleitu (Auckland Institute), T Nu'uali'itia (Auckland); M Mika (Otago), T Leiasamaivo (Moata'a), G Latu (Vaimoso), D Williams (Colomiers), L Falaniko (Marist), P Leavasa (Apia), P Lam (Auckland, capt), M Iupeli (Marist). Replacements: S Tatupu (Auckland) for Leavasa, 29; I Sini (Marist) for Puleitu, h/t; S Lemanea (STOPA) for Tatupu, 67; P Fatialofa (Ponsonby) for Latu, 73.

Referee: P Robin (France).