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Careless and creative from Australia A in loss to Samoa

Sat, 02/07/2022, 4:03 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
Australia A showed glimpses but ultimately were their own worse enemy in their loss to Samoa. Photo: Getty Images
Australia A showed glimpses but ultimately were their own worse enemy in their loss to Samoa. Photo: Getty Images

A two-try blast from flanker Fraser McReight was not enough today when an Australia A comeback fell short 31-26 against Samoa in the Pacific Nations Cup.

There were any number of moments in Suva where the Australians might have got home with more precision yet they consistently tripped on their own errors.

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All the fine work to level the scores at 26-all with a sweeping 60m backline try to reserve halfback James Tuttle was undone when an intercept try was conceded on full-time.

The best moments from the Australia A outfit were excellent for a side thrown together from the five Super Rugby clubs.

The worst moments from penalties for ill discipline, lineout bungles and lack of awareness compounded into giving the dangerous Samoans too many free chances.

It might not seem like it right now but the last 24 hours have been exactly what Australian rugby has needed.

Argentina’s trademark scrum brutality hammered the Junior Wallabies in the Oceania Under-20s on the Sunshine Coast on Friday night. The Aussie A team were stung by the quick, ad lib flair and defensive line speed of the physical Samoans.

Both are great lessons to receive on a return to international rugby for both programs. The value will be whether the lessons are learnt for the matches to come in the respective tournaments.

The Samoans jumped to a quick 12-0 lead in Suva but the Aussie As had already given a hint of good things to come.

When fullback Reece Hodge had a kick charged down, the scrambling to recover produce a fine counter. A Mark Nawaqanitawase flick pass put No.8 Will Harris into open space.

Hodge reappeared to keep the counter-attack rolling and only a fine Samoan cover tackle forced winger Jock Campbell into touch.

Nawaqanitawase and Hodge were out of sync in defence out wide when winger Nigel Ah Wong scored the first of his two tries on debut for Samoa.

It was a moment to relish for Ah Wong, a true journeyman of 32 who had a taste of footy with the Queensland Reds, Melbourne Rebels and Brumbies before time playing in Japan and New Zealand.

His re-emergence this year with Moana Pasifika and the Blues was a springboard into the Samoan side for the athletic 100kg-plus player who won a premiership with Brisbane’s Sunnybank way back in 2011.

Australia A lost lock Ryan Smith to the sin bin at the 20-minute mark. Undeterred, the Aussies went on the attack. A low stab kick ahead by centre Lalakai Foketi bounced off a Samoan leg and perfectly for McReight to score.

While he gave away a couple of penalties, McReight also latched on to win key penalties for turnovers as well.

Samoa led 19-7 at half-time when a fortunate try was awarded to centre D’Angelo Leuila. With no TMO in operation, an obstruction to open up his channel for an inside pass was missed.

The Aussies got back to 19-12 with a fine long-range try finished off by captain Ryan Lonergan.

Centre Hamish Stewart ignited it with a slick pass in contact to Foketi. Campbell’s quality offload to Foketi gave the centre a second touch and he threw the final ball to Lonergan.

The bench provided the perfect energy lift. When fresh backrower Langi Gleeson jolted a ball loose with a dominant tackle, flyhalf Tane Edmed instantly kicked it downfield.

McReight is always quick with such cues and hared more than 40m to swoop on the chance for his second try and 19-all.

You sensed Australia A had the impetus. Unfortunately, the field was too small for Hodge. He thumped a 75m clearing kick that rolled over the deadball line.

Fraser McReight crossed for a double in the defeat to Samoa. Photo: Getty Images
Fraser McReight crossed for a double in the defeat to Samoa. Photo: Getty Images

It gave the Samoans 75m of unearned territory. Shortly after, the dominant Australian scrum won the ball. It was already out, even if a flanker’s foot tried to trap it.

The alert Samoan halfback Jonathan Taumateine cheekily plucked the ball from under the outstretched Aussie leg and darted unopposed to the tryline.

The lack of a TMO triggered more Aussie sighs when Brumby-turned-Samoan flyhalf Rod Iona gained 40m with a clearing kick over the sideline which was clearly struck a step outside his 22m line.

At the 75-minute mark, the Australians produced another exhilarating long-range strike off a lineout win. This time, replacement winger Dylan Pietsch made the sideline run, Campbell handled twice and Tuttle completed the try.

Foketi had a strong game. It was only blighted at the death when he tried to feed a pass to Campbell on full-time. Ah Wong’s mits were quicker and he gratefully seized the intercept for a 20m run and the winning try.

Campbell was one of Australia A’s best but for a poor pass under pressure when he blew an overlap with a certain try in the offing.

McReight was his busy self, Lonergan’s service was spot-on, Edmed never shirked tackling big bodies and threw a neat pass or two, Hodge was better than he’d been for the Melbourne Rebels, the scrum was superior and lock Uru’s quick pick-and-go plays were always productive.

Poor throws from both hookers Billy Pollard and Feleti Kaitu’u will both have to be cleaned up.

The team will benefit from the run, should be bitterly disappointed at the lack of clinical edge and realise playing Fiji in front of Fijian crowd next Saturday will be far tougher.

SAMOA 31 (N Ah Wong 2, J Taumateine, Seilala Lam, D Leuila tries; R Iona 3 con) beat AUSTRALIA A 26 (F McReight 2, R Lonergan, J Tuttle tries; R Lonergan 2 con, R Hodge con)  

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