Pisi, Nanai-Williams add to Manu attack in 19-36 Heartland XV win
The Manu Samoa attack finally clicked in their 19-36 win against a very competitive New Zealand Heartland XV at Eden Park on Saturday.
There were positives in the clever play of first five Tusi Pisi and two tries for prop Michael Alaalatoa on debut, but a more consistent performance will be required in order to both challenge the Wallabies next week, and make any sort of mark at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Flanker Chris Vui was a late scratch from the starting lineup, with Josh Tyrell getting the six jersey and TJ Ioane coming onto the bench.
The Manu started brightly with a Rey Lee-Lo charge down earning them possession inside the attacking 22 metre line within a minute.
They eventually earned a penalty for offside, and Kane Lea'upepe won the attacking lineout to set up a driving maul.
After seven phases of tight play, Alaalatoa went over just five minutes into his first match for the Manu Samoa.
The conversion was missed by Ulupano Seuteni, which opened the door for the Heartland XV to take the lead in the 14th minute.
Fullback Craig Clare (who had one season of Super Rugby for the Highlanders back in 2007) set up halfback William Wright to score under the posts.
Just five minutes later Samoa had their reply, after a couple of penalties gave them an attacking scrum.
They went six phases before a brilliant skip ball from returning fullback Tim Nanai-Williams put Ahsee Tuala in for another unconverted try to make it 7-10.
Nanai-Williams saw plenty of ball on attack early, as he looked to inject himself into the line at every opportunity.
And there was plenty of ball for him to use, as the Manu dominated possession and territory for the first quarter of the game.
With Seuteni off for a head injury assessment, Tusi Pisi came on for a five-minute spell at first five and had an immediate impact.
Samoa won a tighthead at scrum-time, and Pisi quickly shifted the ball wide for centre Alapati Leiua to break.
He found Nanai-Williams in support, who in turn found Tuala for the winger's second try to make it 7-15 in the 26th minute.
The 30-year-old Nanai-Williams certainly provided plenty of attacking spark in his return to the side, something which the Manu appeared to lack in their Pacific Nations Cup campaign.
After the game, coach Vaeluaga Steve Jackson said his team made a lot of errors but he was pleased they chanced their arm at times:
“We’ve been asking players to express themselves.
“That’s how we wanna play the game, we wanna play fast."
The Heartland XV drew within one just before halftime, with first five James Lash setting Sione Holani up to score with a nice short ball after they turned down a shot at goal.
Lock Kane Le'aupepe had a storming start to the second half, winning a breakdown penalty for holding on inside the first minute.
Josh Tyrell took the ball at the resulting lineout, and Le'aupepe scored at the back of an excellent driving maul from Samoa.
But the Heartland XV responded in the 45th minute, with wing Willie Paiaua executing a perfect sideline finish to keep his side within three points.
Ed Fidow had one of his best moments of the game, showing his tremendous pace on the counter.
He couldn't quite recover his own kick in behind, but was able to force a five metre scrum for carried back.
The Manu pounded away, winning penalties for offside, a scrum collapse, offside again and then not rolling away, which eventually saw Heartland lock Josh Clark sent to the bin.
Samoa went lineout, and this time it was Alaalatoa finishing off the driving maul for his second try of the game to make it 19-29 in the 53rd minute.
The game began to fizzle slightly as subs came on and handling errors crept in, though Fidow made a notable covering tackle with that express pace to save a try.
Prop Logovi'i Mulipola came on at number eight of all places; whether we see this at the World Cup or if it was just a party trick from the coaches remains to be seen.
The Manu spread it wide and broke in the 73rd minute, with Tuala finding plenty of space on the right wing.
The last covering defender James Lash tried and failed to intercept his inside ball, and was yellow carded by the referee for a deliberate knockdown.
A man up and with more space to operate, the fitter Manu Samoa side got one final try to increase their margin.
A cross-kick from Pisi found Ahsee Tuala in acres of space, and instead of dotting down for a hattrick he handed it off to Rey Lee-Lo for the try.
Pisi's conversion was the icing on the cake of a good, if incomplete performance, by the Manu, who now head to Sydney for their final match before the World Cup against the Wallabies next Saturday.
Heartland XV 19 (Wright, Holani, Paiaua tries; Lash 1/2 con)
Samoa 36 (Alaalatoa 2, Tuala 2, Le’aupepe, Lee-Lo tries; Seuteni 0/2 cons, Pisi 3/4 con)