Greig Laidlaw’s stunning one-man show booked sluggish Scotland’s place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals after a mighty scare by already-eliminated Samoa.
The Samoans stunned the favourites with three first-half tries to take a three-point lead at the interval, but Laidlaw’s boot proved the difference between the two teams and Scotland ran out 36-33 winners at St. James Park.
The scrum-half kicked 26 of Scotland’s points and fittingly crossed for the 74th-minute try which effectively sealed a last-eight place for Vern Cotter’s men.
Scotland’s bad start curse struck again and a confident-looking Samoa got the first score on the board when David Denton gave away an early penalty and Tusi Pisi kicked for a 3-0 lead. Laidlaw soon kicked a penalty of his own to level the scores, but the Pacific islanders maintained their early momentum, surging into the Scottish 22 where Pisi squeezed over in the corner and subsequently converted.
The Samoans proved their own worst enemies moments later, when a kamikaze decision to fling the ball around near their own try line allowed Tommy Seymour to steal in, nip the ball from Paul Perez and take the simplest of chances to draw the Scots level. But Scottish failings were evident again moments later when Manu Leiataua crossed for the Samoans’ second try, giving the underdogs a 15-10 lead inside a wild and woolly first quarter-hour.
Another Laidlaw penalty reduced the deficit to two points but the Samoans once again responded immediately, Rey Lee-Lo streaking over on the left to restore their seven-point advantage.
Things threatened to get worse for Scotland when, after another Laidlaw penalty, Ryan Wilson was yellow-carded for a blatant stamp on fellow No6 Maurie Fa’asavalu. But instead Scotland made light of their numerical disadvantage when John Hardie was barged over for a try which Laidlaw converted to once again bring the favourites within a point at 24-23.
Scotland were fortunate in the 35th minute when Sakaria Taulafo crossed but was denied a try for an earlier infringement by Pisi. Instead, a Pisi penalty extended the Samoans’ lead by two more points.
The pace of the second half was never going to match the wild momentum of the first, and it was the Samoans’ indiscipline as much as anything that allowed Scotland to seize control for the first time. After two spurned opportunities to kick for goal the Scots put their faith in Laidlaw, who knocked over two consecutive penalties to put his side in front for the first time at 29-26.
Scotland continued to push for another crucial score and, after a period of ferocious pressure, WP Nel almost barged over but was denied following a video review.
Finally and fittingly it was Laidlaw who squirmed free to cross and surely book his team’s place in the World Cup quarter-finals. However, there was still time for one last scare for the Scots when replacement Motu Matu’u crossed with two minutes to go as the Samoans reduced the deficit to three points.