Last second heartbreak for Manu Samoa
Manu Samoa lost their first game of the November tour, falling 30-29 to the USA Eagles at the Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian, Spain.
The game ended on a successful penalty kick for USA, giving them their first win over the Manu in six attempts.
After a spirited siva tau for the first game of the Steve Jackson era, the start of the game was delayed for several minutes.
When experienced No. 8 Faifili Levave knocked the ball on right from kickoff, it looked as though the break may have lulled Samoa to sleep.
That seemed the case for the first 20 minutes or so, with USA ramping up their dominance over the game.
The Eagles owned the collisions, with hooker Joe Taufete’e crashing over in the 12th minute for a classic forwards’ try after an attacking lineout.
Manu Coach Steve Jackson had identified the direct play of the USA loosies as a threat before the game, and their work at the breakdown was impressive.
The USA pressure caused Manu Samoa to concede a penalty for offside, which first five Will Hooley slotted through the posts.
It got worse for the Manu immediately.
They couldn’t secure the kickoff, and Eagles flanker Hanco Germishuys streaked away for a try that saw the scoreboard reflect their dominance, 15-0.
If Samoa needed inspiration, they got it from fullback Ahsee Tuala.
The Northampton Saints man broke several tackles with a powerful burst after inserting himself into the line.
Manu Samoa exploded into life, with prop Logovi’I Mulipola finishing some great buildup with a close range try in the 26th minute.
The confidence begin to flow, and with it came some great attacking rugby.
Tuala broke the Eagles line again, setting up another try for winger Ed Fidow just five minutes after the first.
The momentum had totally flipped, and halfback Melani Matavao sped away then dotted down to make the score 15-21 after 35 minutes.
He would gift one straight back at the ensuing kickoff though, throwing a speculative pass that Cam Dolan intercepted and ran in for a try against the run of play.
Having been brought back down to earth, the Manu needed to respond.
After a helter-skelter 20 minutes, they took a one point lead into halftime, 20-21.
The game was played at La Liga football club Real Sociedad’s home stadium, and the second half began with a piece of skill Lionel Messi himself would have been proud of.
Jamie-Jerry Taulagi seized upon some sloppy USA play at the kickoff, instinctively poking the loose ball around a defender with his left foot, before scoring a spectacular try in the corner.
By the 50 minute mark, Manu Samoa had taken back control of the collisions, and started breaking the line regularly.
The outside backs all looked dangerous on the ball, but Samoa persisted with a lot of tactical kicking, mainly from first five Tusi Pisi.
The Manu kept threatening to score, but couldn’t blow the game open as the had in the 1st half.
USA tried to claw their way back into it, with centre Paul Lasike in particular gaining good metres.
A dangerous tackle from Rey Lee-Lo gave Will Hooley a very kickable penalty, but he slipped on a pitch not really suited to rugby, and shanked his attempt completely.
Manu Samoa seemed to have the game in hand until the 69th minute.
A big wide pass from Pisi was intercepted, and just like that Cam Dolan had his second easy try out of nowhere.
D’Angelo Leuila came on to replace Pisi at first five, his first act was to casually nail a massive penalty kick from almost 50 metres out on the angle, giving Samoa a two point lead late in the game.
Samoa played well in the second half, but couldn’t make it count on the scoreboard.
Then in the dying moments they conceded a penalty, for collapsing a maul coming from an Eagles lineout about 40 metres from the tryline.
Hooley stepped up and slotted the difficult kick and he and his teammates wheeled away in celebration.
After close defeats in their last four games against the Manu, it was a sweet victory for them.
Samoa will regroup before their game at the same venue against Georgia on November 17th.