World-class rugby ‘arrives’ in east London
13:00 30 August 2015
International: Barbarians 27 Samoa 24
New ground was broken in Newham as elite, world-class rugby was played on Stratford soil at the former Olympic Stadium for the first time at the weekend.
The famous Barbarians, celebrating their 125th anniversary this year, took on Samoa in a curtain-raiser to the World Cup, when five matches will be played at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park venue.
And an entertaining contest certainly whetted the appetite for the biggest rugby tournament of all time.
Three years ago it was Jess, Greg and Mo winning Olympic golds for Great Britain on Super Saturday, the air crackling with fever-pitch excitement.
And this time next year it will be West Ham fans singing ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ – but for now it was ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ as rugby arrived in E20.
The Baa-Baas have a rich history of playing entertaining rugby and their mixture of seven Australians, three New Zealanders, three South Africans, a Samoan and Fijian upheld the proud traditions.
Less than two minutes had been played when Aussie scrum-half Luke Burgess took a quick tap penalty in the Samoa 22 and Kiwi flanker Adam Thomson eventually plunged over from close range.
Samoa kicked for the corner after winning a penalty inside the Barbarians 22 to give their lineout some early work and prop Anthony Perenise forced his way over to level the scores, before a successful conversion.
A big hit on Barbarians full-back Paul Williams on halfway raised a few whoops in the crowd and a polite ripple of applause also went round as Williams later found a good touch to clear danger, with Samoa pressing from another lineout.
Williams saved a certain try with a juddering tackle on Ken Pisi, after the winger had streaked clear from halfway, but the big screens showed the TMO was more interested in an incident at the side of a ruck that led to a red card for Samoa’s Kane Thompson and a yellow card or Saia Fainga’a.
It certainly got the crowd talking, as a low murmur began to sweep around the bowl of the stadium, before Tusi Pisi kicked a penalty to put Samoa 10-5 up midway through the half.
A jinking run by Ben Tapuai earned a roar as the Barbarians went on the attack and a lineout catch and drive saw Australian flanker Liam Gill touch down to level the scores, before Christian Lealiifano curled in a conversion to make it 12-10.
A big cheer went up as sprinklers came to life in the Samoan half of the field and the PA confirmed it was a “totally unofficial water break”.
And there was more applause when the problem was quickly rectified by officials, who had sprinted across the field of play and down a tunnel to locate the problematic tap. That’s what test events are for, after all.
Tapuai scooted in at the left corner on the half hour as the Barbarians made the extra man count to extend their lead, but 14-man Samoa prompted some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ with slick offloads and hit back when a grubber kick was mishandled by the Baa Baas and grounded by Ken Pisi, with the conversion tying the scores five minutes before the break.
Samoa had made 88 tackles to the Barbarians’ 12 in the opening half and, after asking who was supporting whom, match presenter Dan Lobb asked if there were any West Ham fans in, before making a joke about the Hammers playing Gillingham in League Two in their new home in a few years time.
It didn’t get many laughs and the Baa Baas were back on the attack after the restart, pressuring the Samoan line and eventually finding a way over through Thomson after a quick review from the TMO on 50 minutes.
Samoa were back on terms within four minutes, though, to the delight of the crowd, who cheered their attacking intent and saw Jack Lam go over from a quick tap penalty and the simple conversion from Tim Nanai-Williams from in front of the posts make it 24-22.
More big tackles had the crowd cooing and slick passing sent Tapuai sliding in at the right corner for his second try on 64 minutes, but Mike Harris could not convert from out wide.
It was enough for Barbarians to claim victory over 14-man Samoa, though the islanders were still pressing at a lineout on the 22 before the ball was put into touch one last time.
After helping to make history in Stratford, Samoa open their World Cup campaign against the USA at Brighton on Sunday September 20, while France and Romania will be the next two sides to do battle in Newham on Wednesday September 23.
Barbarians: Paul Williams (Stade Francais & Samoa), Taqele Naiyaravoro (Glasgow), Ben Tapuai (Western Force & Australia), Wynand Olivier (Montpellier & South Africa), Dwayne Sweeney (Munakata Sanix Blues), Christian Leali’ifano (Brumbies & Aus), Luke Burgess (Zebre & Aus), Benn Robinson (Waratahs & Aus), Saia Fainga’a (Queensland & Aus), Carl Hayman (New Zealand), Bakkies Botha (SA, captain), Luke Jones (Melbourne), Adam Thomson (Queensland & New Zealand), Liam Gill (Queensland & Aus), Pierre Spies (Blue Bulls & SA).
Replacements: Jaques Potgieter (Munakata & SA) for Spies, 46; Mike Harris (Melbourne & Aus) for Williams, 46; Tolu Latu (Warratahs) for Fainga’a, 55; Ali Williams (NZ) for Botha, 55; Nic Groom (Stormers) for Burgess, 55; Tom English (Melbourne) for Sweeney, 55.
Unused: Joshua Hohneck (Highlanders), Kyle Traynor (Scotland).
Samoa: Tim Nanai-Williams, Faatoina Autagavaia, Paul Perez, Rey Lee-Lo, Ken Pisi, Tusi Pisi, Kahn Fotuali’I, Sakaria Taulafo, Wayne Avei, Anthony Perenise, Teofilo Paulo, Kane Thompson, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Jack Lam, Ofisa Treviranus (captain).
Replacements: Vavao Afemai for Fotualii; Manu Leiataua for Avei, 55; Vavea Tuilagi for Treviranus, 66; Johnny Leota for Autagavaia, 70; Jake Grey for Perenise, 71.
Unused: Viliamu Afatia, Faifili Levave, Patrick Fa’apale.
Referee: John Lacey.