Sunday 10 April 2022 Apia Samoa. A country of population 200,000 currently on lockdown due to Covid-19 were glued to their seats at the start of the Manu Samoa 7’s match against Spain on Saturday night. The equation was simple – win and Samoa would be through to the Cup Quarterfinals.
At ninth place in the HSBC Sevens series standings, Spain were not going to give in and let Samoa walk through them like the boys in blue had just done with England.
Only two minutes into the match and Spain had themselves a handsome 14-0 lead.
The Manu were pushed back deep into their own territory by the Spanish attack and this looked to unsettle the Samoan defense line.
All of a sudden the Manu found themselves in a tough situation. It needed a big effort for Samoa to make a come back, as the effects of not having played an HSBC competition for 762 days looked to be taking its toll.
Samoa would go on to score 26 unanswered points infront a jubilant crowd at Singapore’s National stadium. The players would never hear the loud cheers coming from homes across Samoa, as well as the cheers from Samoa’s diaspora in every country of the globe. One fan posts, even the dogs were barking because of our loud screams!
Due to the five hour time difference, it was close to midnight for locals in Samoa, who had just only received the latest Ministry of Health update to confirm 4 more covid deaths. It was a welcomed distraction, even if for a moment.
Uaina Sione and Steve Rimoni who both secured points in Samoa’s first two games, continued their try-scoring antics by opening Samoa’s accounts and bringing the Manu within two points, going to the halftime break trailing by 14-12.
Both teams returned to start the second half with a high level of intensity and explosiveness, in attack and defense.
But the statistics were against Samoa in the second half with Spain owning over 80% of possession.
Spain looked to have scored first in the second half, but for a try-saving tackle by captain and 7s veteran, Melani Matavao.
The TMO revision showed Matavao sliding below the ball and getting a hold of his opponent’s arm as he tried to ground the ball. The heroic act by Samoa’s most senior Co-Captain had saved not just that try, but possibly Samoa’s hopes for a quarter final.
Samoa’s fitness and defense was tested when, for a solid three minutes, the boys did nothing but tackle.
Muliagatele Brian Lima’s side definitely showed up as the fitter of the two teams, as players’ faces started to show fatigue from the continuous play, and from the humidity of Singapore.
Spain continued to maintain both possession and territory attacking deep into Samoan territory, but Samoa defended with heart until a trademark big hit by Steve Onosa’i forced a turnover.
Matavao’s quick hands popped a loose ball out to Owen Niue on the wing. Niue gassed passed the Spanish defense and took it the whole 80 meters to clock in Samoas third try and give the Manu the lead for the first time in the match.
As fresh legs of the super-subs started to roll in, it was Indiha Saotui-Huta who took the match into his own hands and sealed the deal for Samoa by slicing through two would-be defenders with his fancy footwork, to find himself under the post. The final score was 26-14.
After the Manu’s fantastic first day back to the HSBC, the mostly young squad of Muliagatele Brian Lima would have to regroup, refocus and return tomorrow to play in the Cup Quarterfinals against their Pacific brothers, the All Blacks, at 6:12 pm (Local Samoa Time).