KUMAGAYA, Japan (Reuters) - Samoa survived being reduced to 13 men for almost 10 minutes in the first half and struggled to overcome a limited and exhausted Russia team to open their Pool A campaign with a bonus-point 34-9 victory at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium on Tuesday.
The Pacific islanders scored six tries but did themselves no favours in a scrappy game that saw Rey Lee-Lo and Motu Matu’u shown yellow cards for high tackles within two minutes of each other, while Russia’s Kirill Gotovtsev was also sinbinned for a similar offence.
“It was a tough game, we knew the Russians were going to come in the first 20-40 minutes, we just had to stick it out and I’m really proud of the way the boys came back in the second half. We’re here to create a legacy,” captain Chris Vui said in a pitchside interview.
They will have to be a lot more accurate to stand any chance of matching the trailblazing Samoan quarter-finals of the 1990s with Scotland, Japan and Ireland to come, even after some impressively worked tries for Lee-Lo, Afaesetiti Amosa and two each for wingers Alapati Leiua and Ed Fidow.
After going at Japan hard in the tournament’s opening game and giving the hosts a scare in the process, Russia set out with the same gameplan and again found themselves in the lead early on in front of a crowd packed with enthusiastic local fans.
The noticeably fresher Samoans struck first though after a fine skip pass from Clermont Auvergne’s Tim Nanai-Williams found Leiua and the Bristol man, who shifted to the wing in a late injury-enforced change, jinked his way over in the corner.
But the Russian setpiece and kicking game that concerned Samoa coach Steve Jackson before kick off tested his side’s discipline and as the penalty count ticked up, Russia flyhalf Yury Kushnarev knocked two over for a 6-5 lead.
With World Rugby publicly criticising the officiating over the first weekend of the World Cup shortly before kick off, Romain Poite had a decision to make on 28 minutes when centre Lee-Lo went in high on Russia captain Vasily Artemyev.
Poite and his television match official deemed that Artemyev had dipped slightly into the tackle and made the same call two minutes later when a near identical tackle sent hooker Matu’u to the bin.
Their opponents were unable to make anything from the two-man advantage, something Artemyev rued after the game as the punishing four-day turnaround from the Japan defeat began to show among their unchanged side in the second half.
Amosa put the Samoans back in front with a try just after the break and Gotvotsev’s yellow card for catching him high just as he was about to score ended Amosa’s night too after his knee buckled in the collision.
Matu’u also failed a head injury assessment and could miss their Sept. 30 clash with Scotland in Kobe.
Samoa showed how to use the 10-minute advantage and put the game out of sight by the time Gotvotsev returned, first with the kind of flair Vui promised before the game as replacement hooker Ray Niuia’s delicious no-look reverse pass put Fidow through.
The winger got his second minutes later before Lee-Lo and Leiua rounded the score off against the Russians, who now have nine days off until they meet Ireland in Kobe.
Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Tony Lawrence