LONDON, Nov 12 (Reuters) – Samoa hosted England in the Rugby League World Cup final with a golden point victory in extra time after Saturday’s thrilling semi-final ended 26-26.
Having been hammered 60-6 by England in their tournament opener, the Pacific Islanders put on a sensational display at the Emirates Stadium and secured a dramatic win thanks to an audacious drop goal from Stephen Crichton.
England trailed 20-12 in the second half and leveled late on when Herbie Farnworth scored a superb conversion try from a flowing move that started deep in their own half.
But Samoa will not be denied victory on the biggest day in the country’s sporting history — next week’s final against defending champions Australia at Old Trafford.
“We knew what we could get if we turned up and played our best foot,” captain Paulo said.
“We owe it to the people of Samoa. It’s all about the journey, and the journey continues.”
England were unrecognizable to the team that destroyed Samoa in the group stages and paid for a flawed display.
“We were the second best team. Tried a lot but just not enough,” said captain Sam Tomkins.
A fired-up Samoan eased off a first-half sin bin for Paulo, who led 10-6 at the break as Farmanu Brown and Oregon Kaufusi both suffered head injuries in a fierce collision.
Salford’s Tim Lafay silenced the home crowd to give Samoa an early lead, heading into the corner after Jarome Luai’s through ball.
England failed to execute from key scoring positions and even when Paulo was shown a yellow card for flagrantly bringing down Tom Burgess, their finishing let them down.
In further trouble for Samoa, Brown and Kaufusi were both sent off after a head-on collision, and Callum Watkins soon faced a challenge from Lafai but his try failed to spill the ball.
Samoa broke through in the 25th minute with George Williams scoring twice and Tommy McKinson’s conversion setting up Elliott Whitehead for a goal.
But some sluggish England defending allowed Ligi Tsao to slip through a gap and Steven Crichton converted.
England took the lead five minutes into the second half and Lafay made his only mistake, throwing the ball under his own posts to allow John Bateman to pounce on Mackinson’s conversion and score. But Samoa was not finished.
Luai volleyed a pass to Crichton to score and they took the lead in incredible fashion in the final battle. England looked flat and Samoa relentless and they were in dreamland when Louis Lafai scored in the corner to give his side a 20-12 lead.
But a despondent England reduced the arrears when Farnworth piled through a wall of Samoan defenders for a try and Makinson converted a penalty to make it 20-20.
Victor Radley’s sloppy catch was held by Crichton and the victory looked to have been sealed by Crichton, who ran in joy from the halfway mark to put Samoa on the verge of a final.
Williams fed Whitehead deep in the Samoan half and he sent Farnworth racing clear for a try, while Mackinson converted an epic contest into a golden point sweep.
With the fans on the edge of their seats, Samoa had the first chance with a charging drop goal, but minutes later, from a similar position, Crichton split the posts to spark wild celebrations from the Samoan players and fans.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge
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