It was my duty as a Welshman to awake this morning at 4.15am to catch Wales play Samoa in New Zealand's Rugby World Cup. There are a number of drawbacks to this: Wales have a terrible record against the Samoans in World Cups with embarrassing losses in both '91 and '99, the Samoans had a nice easy match to open their RWC account against Namibia whereas Wales had a gruelling encounter with current champions South Africa but more importantly I had to get out of bed in the pitch black of 4.15am and watch the 'coverage' supplied by ITV Wales which is almost as flat and impotent as the Welsh team proved to be today.
Samoa deserved to win today, even more so than Wales deserved the win against South Africa last week. Where Wales were slow to the ball and the breakdown the Samoans were dynamic and sharp. Wales struggled to put more than 4 phases together where Samoa regularly held the ball for more than 10. The Welsh Scrums and lines out, which were so strong against the Saffers, were creaky and at times woeful against the general accuracy and gusto shown by Samoa.
Still, the match ended 17-10 to Wales. Wales landed more kicks and matched the 1 Samoan try courtesy of a fantastic break by the speedy Gonzalez legs of Leigh Halfpenny who came on for the ineffectual (and injured?) James Hook. The greater loss, in this writer's opinion, was of Dan Lydiate, Andy Powell huffed and puffed as he so often does but did little to impose himself on the game. Lydiate is the antithesis of Powell, he gets about his word quietly and patiently, turning ball over regularly and often dominating his opposite number around the field and making 'hard yards' around the fringes.
Special mentions go to the Samoan back row, Stowers worked tirelessly at 8 and Faasavalu at 7 outshone Wales captain Sam Warburton, though he was helped by a lack of control of and respect for the ball at the breakdown by Wales. Samoa, in contrast carried dynamically and strongly deserving more than the solitary try by Anthony Perenise.
In the end Halfpenny's scintillating pace up the line, the support of Jon Davies, his best effort to butcher the try and Shane's incredible anticipation to pick up the lose ball and dot down were the difference. A win is a win as they say and another couple in the group and Wales will surely face Ireland in the quarter-final. On this performance however, both Fiji and Ireland will be licking their lips.