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Samoa Signals Rugby World Cup Danger by Upsetting Australia

Samoa stunned Australia 32-23 to secure what players and coaches said was the Pacific Island team’s greatest rugby victory and signal its potential for further upsets at this year’s World Cup.

Samoa, the 12-1 outsider with bookmakers for yesterday’s match, outscored the second-ranked Wallabies by four tries to two in Sydney for its first win over Australia in five attempts. Ranked 10th by the International Rugby Board, Samoa had only managed a total of 26 points in the four previous meetings.

“This is something special, a win like this creates history for Samoa,” Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger told reporters. “I’m lost for words.”

While the island nation with a population of about 180,000 had previously upset Wales at the 1991 and 1999 Rugby World Cups, it was Samoa’s first victory against one of the four countries to have won the sport’s quadrennial championship.

This year’s World Cup in New Zealand is scheduled to begin Sept. 9 and Samoa and Australia could meet in the last eight.

“Our goal is to make the quarterfinals,” Samoa assistant coach Brian McLean said at a news conference. “The way things are set up if we finish second in our pool and Australia win their pool then we would meet them in Wellington in the quarterfinals. We’ve kept a few things back.”

The Wallabies, who handed four players their Test debuts, failed to build on the momentum gained from the Queensland Reds’ victory over New Zealand’s Canterbury Crusaders in the July 9 Super Rugby final as they were overpowered by the Samoans in the tackle and at the breakdown.

Physical Exchanges

“We got beaten in terms of the physical exchanges,” said Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. “They defended strongly, knocked a lot of ball out, attacked the breakdown effectively and turned ball over and then profited off that.”

Winger Alesana Tuilagi, full-back Paul Williams, second-rower Kane Thompson and outside center George Pisi all touched down for Samoa, which had kept Australia scoreless until the 38th minute. Tusi Pisi kicked Samoa’s other points.

Fly-half Matt Giteau scored 18 points for the Wallabies including a 71st-minute try. Winger Digby Ioane also touched down for Australia, which won by 67 points when the teams last met in 2005 and by 70 points nine years earlier.

“That’s not the way I pictured my Test debut,” said Wallabies wing Rod Davies, who was called into the starting lineup two days ago after James O’Connor was ruled out because of a hamstring injury. “The only way is up from here and to go back to the drawing board and look for the positives.”

World Cup Warning

Samoa’s performance will have put the other World Cup teams on notice, said Wallabies inside center Pat McCabe. The Samoans are grouped with South Africa, Wales, Fiji and Namibia in Pool D at the 20-team tournament.

“They’ll be extremely dangerous,” McCabe told reporters. “Anytime they can be as physical as they were today I think they’re going to threaten any side in the world.”

The Wallabies have a six-day turnaround before returning to ANZ Stadium on July 23 to open the Tri-Nations against South Africa as they seek to get their season back on track.

Australia plays the Springboks and All Blacks home and away before opening its bid for a third World Cup title on Sept. 11 against Italy.

“We’re just starting,” Deans said. “It’s given us an awakening in terms of what’s going to be required to be competitive within six days. We know what we’re entering and we’ve got to get up there.”

‘No Short Cuts’

John Eales, a World Cup winner with Australia in 1991 and 1999, said the Wallabies played into Samoa’s hands by kicking to touch in the opening minutes rather than trying for the three points on offer for a penalty goal.

“Subconsciously they sent a message that this was a game they expected to win,” Eales wrote in today’s Australian Financial Review. “There are no short cuts to victory, and there is no victory if you do not respect the basics.”

By defending its nine-point lead in the closing eight minutes, Samoa secured a victory over a so-called Tier One rugby nation after going close on November’s tour of Europe, where it lost 20-10 to Ireland and got within three points of Scotland.

“Today for us was about respect, we wanted to get some respect and hopefully we’ve done that,” McLean said.

For head coach Titimaea Tafua, the win means more.

“It’s history to us, beating the No. 2 team in the world,” Tafua said.

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