Big boys, big hits, big hugs. This was a big match for Samoa and a special occasion as the engaging South Sea Islanders were given the rare chance to come to Twickenham and parade their skills. They let no one down.
Despite their recent run of defeats and their well publicised off the field difficulties, they came full of spirit, with a spring in their step and a smile on their faces.
Make no mistake, this was a proper test match, as the many battered and bruised England players will testify to upon waking on this Sunday morning. The match was played in an admirable spirit, and the way that all the players gathered in a circle of friendship and prayer after the final whistle told its own story. Rugby has an ability to reach out to embrace its own and long may such commendable camaraderie continue.
The rugby family needs Samoa and World Rugby, the game’s governing body, needs to find a way to ensure that they continue to be able to play at this level and that their fiercely loyal, proud and determined players are properly rewarded. With such huge funds swilling around in their coffers it is only right that now, more than ever, they sort this problem out. It would be criminal not to.
Samoa were never realistically going to win this match but they played their full part in an entertaining encounter and scored two excellent tries in the process, through Faasalele and their inspirational skipper, Chris Vui.
England got off to a flyer with a couple of early tries courtesy of Mike Brown and Alex Lozowski, which set the tone.
However, the avalanche never materialised. Samoa rallied admirably, playing with a freedom and sense of adventure that pushed England back and forced them into making uncharacteristic errors. Faasalele’s try following some aggressive driving close to the breakdown was well deserved and fully merited.
Whilst Charlie Ewels added a further score for England from a close-range drive just before halftime, England were not able to pull away until much later in the second half, when some slick handling at pace eventually created holes in the tiring Samoan defence, culminating in two tries for Eliott Daly and others for Henry Slade and Semesa Rokoduguni. All beautifully orchestrated by George Ford at outside half who is growing into a top class number ten.
The highlight was most certainly a splendid individual effort by Daly, after he created some space for himself with some fancy footwork, before he turned on the afterburners to scorch away from the Samoan covering defence to score at the posts and bring this Autumn series to an end on a relative high.
However, Eddie Jones will not be fooled by the margin of victory albeit the clinical way that England closed out the match with the three late tries was evidence of a desire to push on towards the next level. For large parts of this match though they struggled, making errors and being bashed at the breakdown.
Jones has used this autumn series to try out some of the younger players and test some new combinations, which has proved to be a very worthwhile exercise. On this occasion, he yet again gave youth its head and his decision was well rewarded by some excellent ‘heads up’ rugby from the footballing centres, Lozowski and Slade, both of whom must surely have a future on the international stage.
In the forwards, both Sam Simmonds and Charlie Ewels made their mark and add to Jones’ increasingly impressive pool of second row and back row players.
Ultimately a job well done and England now move on to the challenges of the Six Nations, where they will surely be fully tested.
For Samoa, ‘salute’. Their players have done their nation proud and may they go from strength to strength.