Wales came through their match against bogey side Samoa, but they didn’t come through unscathed.
Taff talisman James Hook – sorry, the mercurial James Hook – didn’t reappear after halftime. The outhalf-cum-centre-cum-fullback injured his AC joint and will be out of action for at least the next two games, maybe more. Dan Lydiate, the young Dragons blindside, did his ankle early in the game and was replaced by beer-drinkin’, fun-havin’, cart-drivin’, chair-stoppin’ Andy Powell. Biff!
Hook was replaced at fullback by pacy midget Leigh Halfpenny, who had a fundamental effect on the result of the game. The wee nipper stole off down the left wing in the second half, combining with big lump JJV Davies to put try-scoring legend Shane Williams over in the left corner with about fifteen minutes left to play.
One of the surprises of Gatland’s selection in this tournament to date has been his preference for lamper Luke Charteris over Bradley Davies. Charteris repaid his coach’s confidence in full against the Boks and had another big day against the islanders: he put in a great effort out of touch and was busy at maths on the tackle front as well. For his part, his second-row partner Alun-Wyn Jones had a classic falcon*: there was a lineout that was for the most part in the shade of the grandstand, but the lift put AWJ up just high enough so that the sun dazzled him, and he lost the ball until it hit him in the shnozz. Pop!
Falcons aside, the Welsh effort in general was very commendable. Huw Bennett had a cracker of a game at hooker, and ESPN Scrum.com has Toby Faletau making 27 tackles in a Dusautoir-esque defensive performance. The Welsh physicality – both in offence and defence – was admirable, George North and Jamie Roberts laying out Samoans Lavea Levi and Mapasua in the first half. If anything, the Welsh nudged the contact area over the usually über-physical Samoans, and bullying wing Alesana Tuilagi was tackled early and often.
Sam Warburton was not as omnipresent as he had been against the Boks, and might have been paying for his superhuman efforts the week before. Adam Jones surprisingly struggled a bit at scrumtime, although Gethin Jenkins coming off the bench in the second half will give a huge boost to Welsh fans. He’s a top quality player but has missed an awful lot of rugby in recent times.
Rhys Priestland has a touch of the ROGs about his tackling – not quite a swinging door, but certainly an easier option than Mike Phillips or Jamie Roberts, the men on either side of him. With that said, in general the Welsh defence was very physical and well-organised. I wonder what Shaun Edwards has been reading recently? Something with great scope I’d imagine.
There’s been a ridiculous bleat from one of the Samoan players, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, comparing the four-day turnaround to slavery, apartheid and the Holocaust. You absolute muppet. The Mole doesn’t have a huge amount of sympathy for the islanders on this one. The Namibians [Samoa’s first opponents] were playing their second game in five days themselves, and the islanders were 42-0 up after an hour. The scheduling was hardly a surprise – with Namibia up first, the Samoans could well have played a much weaker team. They didn’t.
Against Wales, Samoan coach Titimaea Tafua left quality players on the bench far too long. Cencus Johnson, Joe Tekori and Ti’i Paulo came on with about ten minutes to go, which is at least ten minutes too late. Everything I’ve seen from their form in Europe says to me that they’re at least as good as the players they’re replacing, so they should be seeing an awful lot more gametime.
*coined after a pass that hit the head of Mario “Falcon” Fenech in the NRL