The new era for the Manu Samoa has started with a draw.
And if the 19-all score line against a determined Georgia outfit at a wet and slippery Apia Park was anything to judge by, the coaching staff have plenty of work to do. It’s something Captain David Lemi and the only try scorer in yesterday’s kicking fest at Apia Park is well aware of.
“I think we were lucky with the draw,” Lemi said at the end of the game. “We always said that we have the utmost respect for Georgia because they’re a very good team.
“In the rankings, they’re better than us and so for a team of young guys to gut it out and come away with a draw, I’m happy.”
Captain Lemi said their ultimate goal was to win especially in front of their fans at Apia Park but he admitted perhaps some of the younger players let the occasion get the better of them.
The weather certainly did not help.
Still, Lemi is optimistic that yesterday’s effort was not a losing start and the team now has something to build on, as they look ahead to a much tougher proposition in Fiji next week.
“A lot of the young guys put up their hands. They performed well and as the skipper, I’m extremely proud of them. If you look at the team, there were only a few of us old heads so there is still a lot of work to be done but at least we’ve started. “Our focus now is on Fiji and we know it’s going to be another hard game next week.”
At least it’s an assignment that coach Namulauulu Alama Ieremia might have a bit more choices in terms of experienced players to choose from.
Supporting the team from the sidelines yesterday were veterans Sakaria Taulago, Tusiata Pisi and a few others who have just joined the team.
Sakaria would definitely be needed following an average set piece performance where Georgia got early ascendency up front and never relented.
They toyed with Manu Samoa’s scrum, forcing the home team to concede a number of penalties – some of them turned to points.
If there was any doubt about the ability of this Georgia team, they silenced their critics in the first minute when they drew first blood through the boot of Merab Kvirikashvili for an early 3-0 lead.
This soon turned to 6-0 with Georgia’s second penalty conversion coming off the back of three straight penalties against Manu Samoa.
Georgia got on the front foot and they had all the territory and possession in the opening stanza. The home team struggled to get out of their half and were nearly pinged again had Kvirikashvili not missed his third penalty attempt.
It wasn’t until the 31st minute that a subdued crowd at Apia Park found their voice after first five eighth, Patrick Fa’apale posted Samoa’s first points with a penalty, 6-3.
But Georgia restored their lead with another penalty conversion, 9-3, shortly after before Fa’apale responded with Samoa’s second penalty for a, 9-6, half time score.
Whatever was said in the changing sheds at halftime had an immediate impact when the Manu started the second half with a roar.
With the sun out for a brief moment, the men in blue lifted and the scoreline changed immediately.
First Fa’apale leveled the scores with his third penalty attempt, 9-9, and then his team kicked into action, showing the flair Samoan rugby is known for with some impressive power running and slick hands.
Meters away from the tryline and with a penalty advantage in the offering, the ball, having been through multiple pairs of hands, ended up with Captain Lemi.
He snuck through a grubber which bounced back off the goal post and into Lemi’s hands for a well deserved try. With Fa’apale adding the conversion for a 9-16 lead, it looked as if a giant had awoken.
Alas that was as good as it got in as far as try-scoring action went for Samoa.
Georgia refused to lie down and they responded the best way they knew how which was using their big forwards to rumble their way to the try line. Hooker Jaba Bregvadze emerged the try scorer.
It was converted and the scores were locked again, 16-16.
In the 52nd minute, Fa’apale landed his fourth penalty conversion to nudge his team ahead, 16-19.
But Georgia responded with one of their own in the 66th minute to level the score, 19-19.
With a raft of changes in the final minutes, the game lost its shape and any chance that Manu Samoa had of finishing on a high were immediately snuffed out by a determined Georgia effort – and their lackluster efforts.
The visitors had one last chance to win the game but they would be kicking themselves for failing to capitalise.
Of immediate concern to the Manu Samoa ahead of their trip to Suva next week is hooker Motu Matu’u who was subbed off with an injury.