Samoa Finish Off Fiji
Pacific heavyweights Samoa bludgeoned Fiji's World Cup hopes on Sunday with a grinding 27-7 victory which earned them a shot at the quarter-finals in their final pool game against champions South Africa.
Flyhalf Tusi Pisi kicked Samoa to a 12-0 lead in an attritional first half before they outscored Fiji two tries to one in the second period to dash their arch-rivals' hopes of a second successive place in the last eight.
The match was played against the colourful backdrop of 60,327 fans, mostly members of Auckland's expatriate Pacific community, but wet conditions hampered free-running Fiji who slumped to their second loss in the "Pool of Death".
"This game is all about pressure and we kept the pressure on and got some points," said Samoa skipper Mahonri Schwalger. "If you want to win against a strong team like Fiji you have got to get the points when you get down into their 22."
Samoa now have an outside chance of reaching their first quarter-final in 16 years with victory on Friday against the Springboks, or even a solitary bonus point if Fiji can do them a favour by beating Wales next Sunday.
"It's very disappointing. We failed to fire any shots in the first half. After half time we were still in the game but the credits go to the Samoan defence and their one-on-one tackles," said Fiji captain Deacon Manu.
Samoa had promised to batter Fiji's forwards and starve their backs of ball, and so it proved in a first half of juddering collisions, calls for medical attention and handling errors with the slippery ball.
The Samoans played the opening 30 minutes nearly exclusively in the Fijian half, allowing ex-Toulon flyhalf Pisi, now playing in Japan, to kick three penalties and an opportunist drop-goal.
And Fiji twice had the video replay to thank after try-attempts by Sailosi Tagicakibau and 1.94m (six foot four) wing Alesana "Bulldozer" Tuilagi were ruled out after referral by referee Bryce Lawrence.
Pisi stroked over a fourth penalty early in the second half before Fiji had their best passage of play with a rolling attack through the forwards which was eventually ended by a turnover.
Tuilagi knocked Tagicakibau backwards with a ferocious hit as the big collisions kept coming, but a huge tackle by Fiji's Sisa Koyamaibole on Pisi could not prevent Samoa's first try as scrumhalf Kahn Fotuali'i darted over from the ruck.
Fiji's forwards came rumbling back and they were rewarded with a try when flanker Netani Edward Talei went over after receiving the ball on the right for their only score of the day on 66 minutes.
But Samoa found an immediate riposte when number eight George Stowers powered over on the left. Hopes of a Fiji revival were hit when hooker Sunia Koto went off injured and they were denied a last-gasp consolation by a video replay.
The two teams went toe-to-toe in a simultaneous haka confrontation before kick-off but they huddled together in prayer after the final whistle.
Fiji beat Namibia in their first game before a 49-3 reverse to South Africa, while Samoa also had a win over Namibia before going down 17-10 to Wales last week.
SARugby.com Man of the Match: Paul Williams
Samoa - Tries: Kahn Fotuali'i, George Stowers. Conversion: Paul Williams. Penalties: Tusi Pisi (4). Drop Goal: Pisi.
Fiji - Try: Netani Talei. Conversion: Waisea Luveniyali.