England stutter to victory

GARETH DUNCAN writes England got the job done but hardly impressed in their 26-13 win over Samoa at Twickenham on Saturday.

While the score might describe a credible England performance, it wasn’t. Take away Tom Croft’s intercept try and Toby Flood’s penalty and conversion at the death and you get a three-point victory against an 11th-ranked Samoa.

A week after their great 35-18 win over the Wallabies last Saturday, England dropped a gear against the Pacific Islanders. The hosts had numerous try-scoring opportunities to seal the game as early as half-time, but failed to replicate the clinical performance displayed in the win over the Wallabies. They were also matched by an impressive Samoan defence as the visitors played a good all-round game.

Inside the first quarter, fullback Paul Willams and flyhalf Flood traded penalties before England gained ascendancy thanks to a powerful display from their forwards. Their heavies dominated the scrum and the tackle point, which set the platform for the backline to play expansively – which they did.

England weren’t afraid to take risks early on as they turned down kickable penalties to search for five-pointers and try to end the contest as soon as possible. After kicking for touch or deciding to scrum on several occasions, they managed to cross the whitewash through fullback Ben Foden, wing Chris Ashton and flanker James Haskell, but referee Peter Fitzgibbon denied all three players. Foden’s foot touched the sideline, the pass to Ashton was adjudged to be forward while Haskell was held up over the try line.

After being frustrated, Flood eventually kicked England into a 6-3 lead in the 26th minute. England carried on with their optimistic approach for tries but failed again to see a scoreless end to the first half.

England rued their missed opportunities after the break as Samoa won a turnover seconds after the restart and Williams slipped in at the corner after two phases to put his side 8-6 ahead.

England then controlled proceedings as they adopted a more structured game plan. The forwards continued their strong performance up front, passes were more accurate, the backline straightened nicely on attack while Flood kicked for posts when the points were on offer.

Outside centre Matt Banahan scored England’s first try after good interplay between inside centre Shontayne Hape and Ashton. Flood then punished Samoa’s ill-discipline by converting two penalties. The win was sealed when replacement flanker Croft capitalised from an intercept in the visitors’ red zone.

Samoa found time to score their second try in the dying seconds as replacement wing Fautua Otto dotted down for the last points of the match.

England proved they are still a powerhouse after their victory over the Wallabies last weekend but their consistency will be questioned after their performance against Samoa this evening. Critics and pundits will keep a close eye on Martin Johnson’s charges when they face the Springboks next Saturday.

Follow Gareth on Twitter