Samoa show their strength to pile on more woe for Wales
IT is turning into the autumn from hell for Rob Howley and Wales — beaten on successive weekends and with the All Blacks to face next Saturday.
Beforehand, acting head coach Howley had promised a performance that "every supporter will be proud of".
But Wales came up short again, despite making eight changes from the side that had lost to Argentina six days earlier.
Ashley Beck crossed for a long-range interception score, but Fa'atoina Autagavaia, George Pisi and Johnny Leota touched down for Samoa. Three tries to one tells its own story.
Wales felt the full force of Polynesian power as they were hammered back in the tackle, shoved back in the scrum and jostled at the line-out.
By half-time, Richard Hibbard, Dan Biggar and Ian Evans had been crocked, so brutal were some of the hits.
It made for painful viewing, and unless there is a huge improvement by next Saturday the game with New Zealand could get messy.
Leigh Halfpenny stood out for Wales and Justin Tipuric achieved one turnover, but it was not a night for home highlights. They have now lost five games in a row and the pressure is on.
For many of Wales's young players, the past week would have been beyond unsettling, pitched as they had been into a strange new world of close scrutiny and even stinging criticism.
It had previously been pats on the back all the way. Wales had reached a World Cup semi-final and achieved a Grand Slam in the previous 13 months – international rugby must have seemed easy.
But the game with Argentina had proved to the too-much- too-young brigade it was anything but.
How grateful Howley must have been, then, to see Ryan Jones coming over the horizon, fit after injury and a man who has long operated by the F. Scott Fitzgerald mantra of refusing to confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.
Leading Wales for a record 29th time last night, the Osprey had hard experience that told him international rugby wasn't all wine, roses and victory parades.
"There are young players in this squad with well over 20 caps to their names already, but they have come during an 18-month period when everything has been flying for Welsh rugby," said Jones at the captain's run on Thursday.
"But that's not a true reflection of international sport. You judge a man by how he reacts to adversity. That's what my dad always told me."
Stirring stuff for a team in a tight corner. But Samoa arrived at the Millennium Stadium in a dangerously confident mood, having put 42 points on Canada a week earlier.
It has almost become a cliché to talk of the islanders hitting hard.
But anyone who doesn't believe it ought to don a pair of boots and try facing them.
Ask the veterans of Wales's encounter against Western Samoa in 1991. Many were treated for injuries after that game. Some came close to needing treatment for shock.
Which was pretty much what Rob Howley would have needed after just 64 seconds last night.
That's all it took for Samoa to score the first try.
It was a touchdown that should have been avoided, with Aaron Jarvis and Paul James failing to nail No. 8 Taiasina Tuifu'a as he surged through.
With the cover stretched, all it needed was simple passing to exploit the overlap, and Tusi Pisi, Paul Williams and George Pisi obliged, the trio combining smartly to put full-back Fa'atoina Autagavaia over in the corner.
Tusi Pisi converted and there was more bad news minutes later when Hibbard took the kind of hit the class of '91 have spent the past 21 years trying to get over.
Attempting to make ground with ball in hand, the Ospreys hooker took a huge shot on the shoulder from Tuifu'a.
He gamely tried to carry on, making several powerful charges before retreating from the fray in obvious pain in the 17th minute: bad news for the Ospreys as well as Wales.
It didn't end there. Shortly before half-time, Howley's team lost Biggar after another example of Samoan rugby at its most bruising. The fly-half was trying to jackal at a ruck when he was not so much cleaned out as wiped out by Teofilo Paulo.
The lock reduced Biggar to rubble by connecting with a fearsome swipe of the right arm, the hit doing damage to the fly-half's face and shoulder.
Biggar looked in a terrible state as he left the field, blood streaming from his face. He was holding his injured shoulder and even limping. Such are the joys of facing Samoa. In between the carnage, Halfpenny had landed a couple of penalties and Beck scored his try, the centre reading play superbly as he picked off Tusi Pisi's pass before sprinting the best part of 80 metres for the score.
Wales led 13-10 at the break but they were rattled by the visitors' ferocity.
Eight minutes into the second half Samoa were back in front — Kahn Fotuali'i robbing Ashley Beck on the ground, making ground before trampling over Jamie Roberts and then releasing George Pisi, who evaded Rhys Priestland as he dived over acrobatically to score in the corner.
Leota settled it by gleefully pouncing for the final try after Halfpenny just failed to dab down a kick over the Welsh line.