IRB Pacific Nations CUP
Australia A maintained their winning start to the IRB Pacific Nations Cup, but only just as they overcame the conditions and a committed Samoa side 20-15 in front of a crowd of 15,500 in Apia on Saturday.
A strong second string Australian side containing Rugby World Cup 2007 squad members Mark Gerrard and Morgan Turinui led 10-3 at the break and seemed to be in control of the match before Samoa came back in the second half to ensure a thrilling climax.
In wet and humid conditions in the Samoan capital, the Australians made light work of the opening exchanges with wing Timana Tahu crossing for the opening try of the match after 10 minutes, while Gerrard's conversion and two penalties to a Neli Sasulu three pointer left the visitors in complete control of the match.
However, the Samoans started the second half in determined fashion and started to stamp their mark on the match with characteristic hard running and strong forward play.
The pressure was enough to catch the Australians cold, and after just three minutes the home side hit back with a well-worked try through hooker Loleni Tafunai to close the gap to just two points.
The score remained in the balance until the 68th minute when Turinui cut through the Samoan defence to break the deadlock. Replacement Matt Carraro's conversion eased the pressure on last year's runners-up as the score opened up a nine-point lead.
A Carraro penalty stretched Australia A's lead to 20-8, which is how the score remained until the final moments of a pulsating match. Australia A appeared to have the game in the bag, but the Samoans were not finished and launched a series of attacks on the Australian line.
With the pressure mounting, the Samoans came close on several occasions before replacement hooker Muliufi Salanoa crashed over for a try. Sevens star Uale Male added the conversion, much to the delight of the home support, to reduce the arrears to five to set up a tense climax.
With time up on the clock, Samoa chased the winning score, but the Australians held firm for the victory.
Australia A: 1. Pekahou Cowan 2. Sean Hardman 3. Salesi Ma'afu 4. Al Cambell 5. Peter Kimlin 6. Poutasi Luafutu 7. Mathew Hodgson 8. Julian Salvi 9. Patrick Phibbs 10. Daniel Halangahu 11. Mark Gerrard 12. Tyrone Smith 13. Morgan Turinui (Captain) 14. Timana Tahu 15. Sam Norton-Knight.
Replacements: 16. John Ulugia 17. Guy Shepherdson 18. Van Humphries 19. Leroy Houston 20. Josh Holmes 21. Scott Daruda 22. Matt Carraro.
Samoa: 1. Heroshi Tea 2. Loleni Tafunai 3. Census Johnston 4. Filipo Levi (Captain) 5. Jack Slade 6. Daniel Leo 7. Semo Sititi 8. George Stowers 9. Notise Tauafao 10. Eliota Sapolu-Fuimono 11. David Lemi 12. Anitelea Tuilagi 13. Henry Fa'afili
14. Esera Lauina 15. Neli Sasulu.
Replacements: 16. Muliufi Salanoa 17. James Johnston 18. Bell Sasulu 19. Johnthan Fa'amatuainu 20. Uale Mai 21. Paletuatoa Toelupe 22. Gasolo Salima.
Tries: Timana Tahu, Morgan Turinui
Conversions: Mark Gerrard, Matt Carraro
Penalties: Mark Gerrard, Matt Carraro
Tries: Muliufi Salanoa, Loleni Tafunai
Conversions: Uale Mai
Penalty: Neli Sasulu