Samoa Mauls Penalty-Plagued Chile in Rugby World Cup Opening Win

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
Samoa’s Jonathan Taumateine, right, and teammate Sama Malolo celebrate after the Rugby World Cup Pool D match between Samoa and Chile at the Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.

BORDEAUX, France (AP) — Samoa started its Rugby World Cup campaign by slowly but surely overwhelming debutant Chile 43-10 in a game drawn out by penalties and punishments on Saturday.

After conceding an early try and leading only 19-10 at the interval, Samoa pulled away after the break with three tries from rolling mauls.

Samoa’s tries went to fullback Duncan Paia’aua right on the first-half buzzer. Blond-mulleted scrumhalf Jonathan Taumateine, flanker Fritz Lee and hooker Sama Malolo, twice, all dotted down in the second half.

“Great to get our campaign underway. A lot to take from that game and we’ll be reviewing it,” Samoa coach Seilala Mapusua said. “Full credit to Chile, they really took it to us and put us under pressure.”

Mapusua had some choice comments for his players at the break.

“Probably a few words I can’t say on live TV, just about trusting our structures and our processes and finishing off our combinations,” he said. “So it was good to see the boys come out and do that (in the second half).”

Chile forced Samoa on the defensive for much of the first half, but Samoa grew into the game and put the squeeze on after halftime and Chile conceded 17 penalties. But as it did in its World Cup debut against Japan last weekend, Los Condores scored the first try, a stunning team effort in the sixth minute finished by prop Matias Dittus.

Chile won soccer’s coveted Copa America back to back in 2015 and ’16, and striker Alexis Sanchez and others became household names at home, so even a second pool defeat for Chile’s rugby players felt like a huge win in front of 12,000 partying, red-jerseyed fans in Bordeaux.

“It’s tough to put in to words. It’s such an amazing feeling,” captain Martin Sigren said. “I feel so alive being in the middle of all this, with this amazing Chilean crowd cheering you. I’ve got my family supporting here as well. It is so special.”

Former Australia international Christian Leali’ifano started at flyhalf for Samoa and kicked 16 points, having top-scored for the Wallabies at the 2019 tournament. Leali’ifano qualified for Samoa on ancestry and switched last year thanks to the international eligibility law change.

He put Samoa ahead with his first of four penalty kicks but Chile caught Samoa napping in defense. Flyhalf Rodrigo Fernandez sold a dummy and broke with support from scrumhalf Marcelo Torrealba. The forwards hammered the line and Dittus burrowed over. Santiago Videla converted from wide left.

Another consequence for Samoa was a yellow card for center Ulupano Seuteni, who late-tackled the dummy runner. But Chile did not exploit the extra man, and Samoa moved 9-7 ahead with two more penalties from Leali’ifano.

With Videla off injured, Matias Garafulic took over the kicking duties and put Los Cóndores ahead 10-9 after 30 minutes.

Only briefly though, because Chile gave away its eighth penalty and Leali’ifano booted Samoa back in front, then converted Paia’aua’s try on the stroke of halftime. Tumua Manu grubber- kicked, Seuteni picked up and Paia’aua raced clear.

The 19-10 scoreline flattered Samoa at halftime, but with first-game nerves settled and breathing room on the scoreboard, it took control in the second half as Chile’s discipline deteriorated.

A charge by lock Theo McFarland finished with Taumateine leaping for the line in the 42nd.

Lee was then driven over from a lineout maul to make it 29-10. Leali’ifano’s conversion attempt hit the right post, but he added the extras to replacement hooker Malolo’s first try from another lineout maul. In the space of 13 minutes bridging halftime, Samoa scored four tries.

“In the first half we had our hopes up. I thought we really had it,” Sigren said. “They kept it going in the second half and it was tough to keep up with their pace.”

Yellow cards marked play for the next 20 minutes. Chile flanker Alfonso Escobar was sin-binned for a shoulder into Lee’s face, then Samoa replacement scrumhalf Ereatara Enari was sin-binned for injuring a jackalling Diego Escobar by falling on him.

Referee Paul Williams got the yellow out for a fourth time when he sin-binned replacement Chile prop Esteban Inostroza, who’d only just come on. Inostroza whacked his head with a plastic water bottle when he sat down.

Samoa’s maul gave Malolo an easy second try and Samoa’s fifth in the closing seconds, converted by former New Zealand flyhalf Lima Sopoaga.

South American rugby continues to impress in France after Uruguay’s battling performance against the host and Chile’s rousing debut against Japan. Chile and Uruguay lost those matches but won new fans.

“Definitely, Chilean rugby has changed,” coach Pablo Lemoine said. “That’s something good.”

Even Samoa’s players were impressed.

“It looks like all of Chile flew out for the game, which is great, it’s what you want,” Samoa prop Michael Ala’alatoa said. It probably caught us a little bit off guard at first.”

Next for Samoa is Argentina on Friday, while Chile faces former champion England the next day.