RWC 2011: Wales battle to cheer the Nation.
Finally, finally Wales produce the victory over a South Seas Nation in a World Cup that Welsh rugby supporters have longed for. It has been a very long time in the making, and so nearly failed to materialise again today, as Samoa did exactly what was expected of them, and came within a whisker of battering their way at close quarters to a third World Cup victory over Wales on the bounce. Yet Wales, with the finishing touch put on an unlikely breakaway try by Shane Williams, managed to hold on to their dream of progressing to the knockout stages once more.
It was not though the same Wales that dominated the World Champions last week, no longer do the men in red fly the European flag, an honour now held aloft by the Irish after they rediscovered their grand slam form from a couple of years back. It was a nervous, edge and unconfident Welsh team who were bullied in the contact area. It cannot be overstressed though that losing Dan Lydiate was huge for Wales. His physicality and work on the floor helped keep Samoa in check early on, when he left, Samoa were given an almost free ride at the breakdown. Andy Powell. The name is almost a question in Wales following his squad selection, and none of his contributions today indicated that his positions in the squad is anything other than a mistake.
In general though, Wales were outplayed for much of the first half, and Samoa were unlucky to have claimed scores on two occasions before the line was finally broken. Fortunately for Wales, brains and the bench played their part. The game plan changed, and the ball saw more trips to the sidelines, both in kicks to touch and passes to the wings, as Wales tried to keep the ball away from the contact zone that so troubled Wales for the majority of the game. The try that secured the win was one that had its share of luck, as Halfpenny broke from surprisingly weak tackles, and Jon Davies escaped with a pass to no one, which somehow ended up in the hands of an eager Shane Williams, who looked hungry throughout.
But where Wales ignored the bench last week, it was used to good effect today. While losing Hook is a concern, Wales immediately had more penetration from deep with Halfpenny. The scrum looked good with Gethin Jenkins making a welcome return, while Lloyd Burns put in what must be his best performance in a Welsh jersey, and unlike Powell, has done a lot to justify his squad selection. Fitness told as well, and certainly the legs that came on for Wales, joined a starting lineup that certainly had more gas than Samoa. Not once did the Samoan team change their tactics, which continued to work, but with increasingly limited success. It was this combination of factors that saw Wales sneak to victory, which overall, they just about deserved.
It is though with some good fortune that Wales face Namibia first before Fiji, who will be knocking lumps out of Samoa in their next encounter. The fall of matches may well have provided the perfect platform for Wales to progress, though that being said, a very similar match up was provided four years ago, much to the detriment of Welsh hopes. Here’s hoping that just as with Samoa, Wales will be able to put to bed their next World Cup hoodoo team, here’s hoping…