NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND – Scotland reached the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals by beating Samoa 36-33 in a thrilling Pool B game on Saturday, denying Japan a last-gasp shot at advancing to the knockout stage for the first time.
The Scots settled after a wild first half in which they conceded three tries and their defensive line was broken at will by the Pacific Islanders, who led 26-23 at the break.
However, the Samoans couldn’t keep up their dazzling play and Scotland ground them down in the forwards, allowing scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw to kick two penalties and then cross for the clinching try in the 74th minute.
A late, fourth Samoa try made for a tense last two minutes, but the party had already started among Scottish fans who crossed the border to turn St. James’ Park into a sea of dark blue.
In the 2011 tournament, Scotland failed to advance from the group for the first time and players vowed to make amends four years on.
“It’s a great day for Scottish rugby,” said Laidlaw, who finished with 26 points. “There’s more to come, we believe, from this Scotland team.”
The Scots placed second in the pool, behind South Africa, and will play Australia in the last quarterfinal at Twickenham. The Wallabies defeated Wales 15-6 on Saturday at Twickenham to top Pool A.
In describing Australia’s success in shutting out Wales while playing with 13 men, the Wales captain and coach didn’t hold back. They used words such as “courageous” and “heroic.”
Asked for his assessment, Wallabies skipper Stephen Moore said: “Guys just did their job.”
The veteran hooker was typically blunt after Australia prevailed, as if there was nothing extraordinary about his undermanned side withstanding wave upon wave of Welsh attacks, backed by a partisan crowd of 80,863 at Twickenham.
“It’s not complicated,” Moore said. “We just try to keep it simple, just working hard for each other.”
But the Wallabies worked triple overtime while teammates Will Genia and Dean Mumm were in the sin bin, to leave Wales to face two-time world champion South Africa in the quarterfinals.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley was the main contributor to the scoreboard for the second successive week, landing five goals from six attempts for all of Australia’s points. He scored 28 in the 33-13 win over England the previous weekend that ended the host team’s hopes of advancing.
His opposite number Dan Biggar, who piloted the Welsh comeback in a 28-25 win over England two weeks ago, kicked all of his side’s points.
England thrashed Uruguay 60-3 in its last pool match, ending an otherwise miserable campaign that raised questions about its ability to compete at the highest level.
Having failed to reach the quarterfinals, the first host side to ever do so, England wanted to leave its fans with something to cheer about, and left winger Jack Nowell showed his finishing skills with a well-taken hat trick of tries. But given that coach Stuart Lancaster’s side needs to build for the future, it was ironic that another hat trick was scored by No. 8 Nick Easter, the 37-year-old veteran who was a TV commentator the previous weekend.
Right winger Anthony Watson chipped in with a try early on in each half and outside center Henry Slade also scored one in England’s haul of 10.
The 10th was a penalty try awarded by referee Chris Pollock right on the final buzzer.
England’s fans inside the City of Manchester Stadium did their best to lift their players’ spirits.
“Even from getting off the bus to the game, the reaction was fantastic,” Lancaster said. “It’s been a tough week and the boys have been hurting all week. It’s given the boys a huge lift to know the country is still behind them.”
But England’s losses against Australia and Wales are engraved on his mind.
“We were 22-12 up against Wales and not far away. For 65 minutes we were playing good test-match rugby, we weren’t far off,” Lancaster said. “The frustration will be there forever.”