On Sunday October 15 1995, Wales took on Western Samoa in a winner takes all World Cup group game. The prize was to be a place in the semi-finals against England at Old Trafford.
Memories were painfully fresh in Wales of their defeat in the 1991 rugby union World Cup at the hands of Western Samoa, and many had looked at the destruction they had wreaked on France earlier in the week as evidence of Wales’ impending doom.
How wrong they were. Wales were clear and deserving winners, matching the Samoans physically up front and showing a superiority with the ball in hand. The game was fought in an atmosphere of raw emotion as the terraces resounded to “Bread of Heaven” and other Welsh songs, whilst S4C, the television channel who had the rights to the game, recorded its record viewing figures at the time.
Vetch Field was brimming with a capacity crowd, with many fans unfortunately locked out and unable to see the historic day including my future best man, the former Open Rugby and now League Express reporter in Toronto, Simon Davies, who after driving down from the north to watch the game wasn’t content to see it on S4C in a pub. Following a group of people through an official entrance, he showed his pager (the most important thing he could think of that he had on his person) to a steward and nodded, the steward nodded back and he was in and made his way to the terrace – it was that kind of day.
Wales knew that the danger lay in being overwhelmed by Western Samoa’s formidable physical game, and they resolved to compete from the kick off. Wales took the lead in the seventh minute. Brian Laumatia was hauled into touch on the first tackle of a Samoan possession, and from the resulting scrum Ellis fed Harris and with the characteristic side step he was away from Tuimave and under the posts. Davies goaled for a 6-0 lead.
Davies was not at his best in the kicking department, and he missed a second penalty. Quinnell was held up for a second time over the line, but suddenly Western Samoa were back in the game. Sam Panapa made space with the inside ball for Vila Matautia to slip Hall, dummy Harris and sprint through the middle for a try between the posts. Schuster’s conversion levelled matters in the 18th minute.
Four minutes later, Wales profited from a piece of Davies magic. He received the ball from the scrum and kicked straight away down the right hand touchline for Sullivan to sprint after. The ball almost bounced out of his reach but he got a decent enough touchdown to restore the lead. Davies kicked a good conversion.
But Jon Schuster is a magnificent goal kicker and he was soon cutting the deficit with a mammoth effort from half way. Davies kicked one in return, but on the stroke of half time another Schuster penalty saw the sides go in at 14-10, and Western Samoa too close behind for comfort.
The second half. however, would see a fantastic performance from Wales as they took a grip on the game. The contest had already been heated, with Tuigimala putting in a flattening hit on his Wigan teammate Martin Hall in the first half (and that was after Hall had almost been flattened at the end of the Samoans’ pre-match Siva Tau), but after Davies had missed a third penalty, he kicked a drop goal on 49 minutes to extend Wales lead by a point.
With 58 minutes gone came the real game breaker. Des Maea cut down Bateman with a high shot and was despatched to the sin bin and Davies kicked the resulting penalty to give Wales a 17-10 lead with a one man advantage. Wales capitalised with a spell of intense pressure on the Samoan line, Hadley coming close to scoring before being denied by Panapa. Eventually Iestyn Harris broke the deadlock with a drop goal in the 75th minute and the Welsh were almost home.
Sensing victory, the crowd broke out into a stirring rendition of the national anthem, and the supporters were sent into ecstasy when the little scrum half Kevin Ellis found a gap on the left hand side from Phillips’ pass to score in the corner. Davies missed the goal but the hooter went and Wales were in the semi finals.
At the end of the game an emotional Jonathan Davies spoke of the victory. “There’s a word in Welsh called “hwyl” and that spirit keeps coming through”. Scott Quinnell summed up his debut in his own straight talking style – “it was one of those games where you just take the bull by the horns”. And he certainly did.
But in reflection a couple of days later Iestyn Harris, who had risen to new heights yet again, playing with a cool class and maturity which belied his teenage years, gave a revealing insight into the spirit of playing for Wales RL.
“The temperature at Swansea on Friday night was red hot. I have never experienced a more passionate occasion. The community singing through the match must have been worth 10 points at least to us. As for the singing of us Welsh guys afterwards, some in the team not so imbued by Welshness as others were terribly affected by it. Martin Hall said he was so moved he had goose pimples running up his back.”
“It’s a spirit that can honestly take us all the way. Or put it like this, it’s going to take a remarkably good team, at the top of it’s game, to beat us.”
WALES: 1 Iestyn HARRIS 2 Anthony SULLIVAN 3 Allan BATEMAN 4 John DEVEREUX 5 Adrian HADLEY 6 Jonathan DAVIES (c) 7 Kevin ELLIS 8 Kelvin SKERRETT 9 Martin HALL 10 David YOUNG 11 Paul MORIARTY 12 Scott QUINNELL 13 Richie EYRES 14 Neil COWIE 15 Keiron CUNNINGHAM 16 Rowland PHILLIPS 17 Paul ATCHESON. Coach Clive GRIFFITHS
WESTERN SAMOA: 1 Paddy TUIMAVAVE 2 John SCHUSTER (c) 3 Tea ROPATI 4 Va’aiga TUIGAMALA 5 Brian LAUMATIA 6 Sam PANAPA 7 Willie SWANN 8 Se’e SOLOMONA 9 Willie POCHING 10 Fa’ausu AFOA 11 Kuripitone TATUPU 12 Vila MATAUTIA 13 Tony TUIMAVAVE 14 Mark ELIA 15 Apollo PERELINI 16 Joe VAGANA 17 Des MAEA. Coach Graham LOWE
Article by Ian Golden