AUCKLAND // It was not the free-flowing Pacific islands rugby as promised, but Samoa's quest to reach the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals is still possible after beating Fiji 27-7 in an error-strewn match.
Samoa scored two tries through Kahn Fotuali'i and George Stowers to one by Netani Edward Talei, all in a nine-minute span in a match watched by 60,237 that was otherwise littered with handling errors, turnovers and shoddy defence — mostly from a flat Fiji.
Tusi Pisi, the fly-half, contributed with 15 points from four penalties and a drop-goal as second-place Samoa improve to 10 points in Pool D. That's five more than Wales, its only realistic runner-up rival who has played a match less and still has winless Namibia and the Fijians to come.
"This game is about pressure and we kept them under pressure," said Mahonri Schwalger, the Samoa captain. "When you play a side like Fiji, you've got to make sure you score points when you get in the 22."
Paul Williams, the Samoa full-back, was the standout player of the match, safe under the high ball and launching numerous counter-attacks.
The greatest moment of fluency in the match came at its conclusion: with players from both teams kneeling on the turf at Eden Park in front of tens of thousands of Samoan and Fijian expatriates, arms locked and heads bowed to be joined in prayer.
Fiji captain Deacon Manu had said the first World Cup clash between the two countries separated by 1,140 kilometres of South Pacific Ocean would bring big hits and entertaining rugby.
The big hits were occasionally in evidence but appalling handling and numerous turnovers put paid to any exciting end-to-end play.
When Samoa's siva tau challenge, led by Schwalger, was followed soon after it began by Fiji's response with its crouching cibi, the sell-out crowd of 60,327 roared its approval in the expectation of an ensuing battle to match that confrontation.
It never really came.
Samoa led 9-0 by the 13th minute from two penalties and a drop-goal from Pisi after totally dominating territory and possession largely because of Fiji's aimless kicking and inability to protect their own ball.
The lead would have been greater but for two wasted try-scoring opportunities.
Samoa worked a shortside move in the eighth minute for Williams to burst through and link with George Pisi, who found Sailosi Tagicakibau five metres out. But Fiji's Naipolioni Nalaga came from his opposing winger's blind spot to hold him up over the try line.
The video referee made that ruling and he was called into action again 10 minutes later when Alesana Tuilagi chipped into space. The ball rolled into the in-goal and the winger dived to try to ground it under pressure from an opponent, but to no avail.
Manu tried to inspire his players with a crunching tackle on Taiasina Tuifua. But Fiji could not match Samoa's intensity, the team's problems compounded by a malfunctioning scrum and line-out and struggles at the breakdown.
Pisi kicked another penalty while the Fiji centre Seremaia Bai missed with his only opportunity for Samoa to lead 12-0 at half time.
On numerous occasions, Fijian players either ran into each other or competed for possession with a teammate to turn it over. What little the backline saw of the ball, the passing was stilted and the players neither ran at pace nor displayed any sleight of hand or subterfuge.
Samoa's 76 per cent of first-half territory came from stealing two scrums against the head and a line-out whereas their own set pieces were perfect.
"In the first half, we didn't fire too many shots," Manu said. "We found it hard to hold onto the ball for phases."
Fotuali'i extended the lead to 20-0 by scooping the ball up and evading a couple of tacklers from close range to go over in the 62nd minute after Pisi had been brought down short of the line from a scrum.
Talei responded six minutes later for Fiji with a try converted by substitute Waisea Luveniyali to cut the gap to 20-7.
But Samoa hit back inside two minutes through the No 8 Stowers after excellent lead-up work by Williams, who converted from the sideline to end any chance of Fiji staging a comeback.
The Fijians never gave up, returning to set up camp in Samoa's quarter, but their finesse and skill levels never matched their commitment.