NEWCASTLE, United Kingdom (AFP) - A match-winning try by Greig Laidlaw carried Scotland into the World Cup quarter-finals with a nail-biting 36-33 victory over Samoa on Saturday and ended Japan’s hopes of a historic place in the last eight.
The Scotland captain had kept Scotland in the game until his try with five penalties and contributed a match total of 26 points – a personal Test best for him.
His converted try lifted Scotland to 36-24 with five minutes to play and although Samoa came back with a late try of their own they could not close the gap.
Scotland were chasing the game for most of the 80 minutes and did not start taking control until Samoa’s discipline began to falter.
As the penalties flowed Laidlaw cashed in, securing the lead for the first time 12 minutes into the second-half then sealing the outcome with his late try.
It was a match of titanic collisions, and played at a pace that led to constant turnovers from wayard passess and handling errors.
For most of the game, the mainly Scottish crowd packed into St James’ Park were treated to repeated scenes of Samoan muscle splintering a fragile Scotland defence.
In the high-octane first half, five tries and a World Cup record 49 points were scored with Samoa holding a 26-23 at the turn.
Scotland’s narrow escape qualified them second behind South Africa in Pool B, a safe six points clear of Japan who play their final pool game against the United States on Sunday.
Samoa go home empty-handed, finishing fourth in their pool like fellow Pacific islanders Fiji and Tonga and all three now having to qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
Vern Cotter’s side, returning to the World Cup knockout stages for the first time since 2007, have struggled to start confidently in each match of the tournament.
It was an issue they worked on during the week, but again they were on the back foot early, although for the first time in pool play they were able to score a try before half-time.
In a helter-skelter opening, Samoa made a mockery of Scotland’s attempted defence, but their own was not much better.
After Tusi Pisi and Laidlaw had exchanged early penalties, Pisi crossed for the first try when centre Rey Ley-Lo made the initial break and backrower Alafoti Fa’osiliva had barrelled up to the line.
Scotland levelled the score from the restart when Tommy Seymour pounced on a wayward pass as Samoa tried to run themselves out of trouble from a deep kick off.
Kahn Fotuali’a set up Samoa’s immediate response putting Manu Leiataua into a huge gap as the Scotland defensive pattern again fell apart.
Laidlaw’s second penalty closed the gap to 15-13 in Samoa’s favour before Lee-Lo, sliced his way past Matt Scott to get the islanders back on attack, then popped up again to finish the move with a try wide out.
Another Laidlaw penalty kept Scotland in touch and on the 30-minute mark they drew level when a forward drive produced a try to John Hardie in his comeback after missing the last two games because of a head knock.
But it was Samoa who had the final say in the first half, with Pisi’s third penalty to lead 26-23 at the break.
Scotland turned down shots at goal which could have levelled the score three times early in the second time, but their plan to drive over the line was thwarted every time.
It took a fourth penalty 10 minutes after the break for Laidlaw to line up the posts to level the score at 26-all.
With the penalties starting to flow, Laidlaw put Scotland ahead for the first time in the match with his fifth three-pointer two minutes later.
Five minutes from time, he scored and converted to put Scotland ahead 36-24 before Samoa rallied one last time with a try to Motu Matu’u converted by Pat Fa’apale