Samoa shock Pumas

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reports from East London

Western Samoa 32

Argentina 26

This was the World Cup match that had everything but consolation for Argentina for losing twice in Group B when they should have nailed down two victories. Provided England beat Italy today, the cruelly unlucky Pumas will be on the first flight to South America.

"I am as disappointed as any coach could possibly be," their coach, Alejandro Petra, sighed as he contemplated his opponents' early qualification for the last eight. If England win today, the losers of Sunday's final pool match will enjoy the dubious privilege of a quarter-final against South Africa.

For the Pumas, the joyous fact that yesterday's match was as magnificent as the tournament could conceivably throw up was meaningless. They allowed not only a 26-13 lead but also their complete control to evaporate during a final quarter that would have been astounding if the first three had not already been.

The Samoans were assailed at their weak point, the scrummage, by the Puma bajadita, and after an hour all coherence had left their play. They responded to an early Argentine penalty try - the Samoan scrum crumpling in disarray - with a glorious try of their own by George Harder but then, as their long-range rugby failed to bring further reward, so they lost their composure.

The Pumas, on the other hand, kept their game under tight control even when they turned into the wind, and when the second half opened with a pushover try by Rodrigo Crexell, Samoa had no obvious way back, especially as Jose Cilley was kicking the goals others had so lamentably missed against England last Saturday.

And then the game turned, as if the Samoans had suddenly realised that there was no point in running around like headless chickens. Darren Kellett, who will miss the England match after dislocating a shoulder in the last minute, at last put boot to ball, thereby gaining consistently good positions, and, when the Pumas infringed, he administered the penalties.

But the ultimate breakthrough six minutes from time was more familiarly Samoan, the replacement wing George Leuapepe scoring the decisive try. This was then followed three minutes later with Samoa's third by Pat Lam, and in injury time by one last ferocious Argentine attack.

"It is the most excited I have ever been at a rugby match," said the Samoans' technical adviser, Bryan Williams, and as a one-time All Black wing of distinction, he has been to a few.

East London had taken them to its heart and at the end the Xhosa people who formed a goodly part of the crowd at the Basil Kenyon stadium rose in celebration. The Samoans responded with an impromtu rendition of the traditional Manu Samoa dance - an unforgettable moment to conclude an unforgettable afternoon.

WESTERN SAMOA: M Umaga (Wellington); B Lima (Marist), T Vaega (Moata'a), T Fa'amasino (Marist), G Harder (Te Atatu); D Kellett (Counties), T Nu'uali'itia (Auckland); M Mika (Otago), T Leiasamaivo (Moata'a), G Latu (Vaimoso), P Leavasu (Apia), L Falaniko (Marist), S Tatupu (Auckland), P Lam (Auckland, capt), J Paramore (Manurewa). Replacements: P Fatialofa (Manurewa) for Latu, 45; G Leuapepe (Counties) for Harder, 51; F Sini (Marist) for Kellett, 79.

ARGENTINA: E Jurado (Rosario); D Cuesta Silva (San Isidro), L Arbizu (Belgrano), S Salvat (Alumni, capt), M Teran (Tucuman); J Cilley (San Isidro), R Crexell (Rosario); M Corral (San Isidro), F Mendez (Mendoza), P Noriega (Hindu), G Llanes (La Plata), P Sporleder (Curupayti), R Martin (San Isidro), J Santamarina (Tucuman), C Viel (Newman).

Referee: D Bishop (New Zealand).