Three tries in eight minutes at the start of the second half saw Samoa overcome a slow start and earn a bonus-point win against spirited Russia.
The Pacific Islanders went down to 13 men in the first half as Rey Lee-Lo and Motu Matu’u were both sin-binned for high tackles on Vasily Artemyev. Russia led at the break thanks to two penalties from Yury Kushnarev. But Samoa found their fluency to run in five second-half tries and ease to victory as the Bears ran out of steam.
Samoa narrowly top Pool A – which also contains hosts Japan, as well as Ireland and Scotland – on points difference. Russia were on top in the early stages at Kumagaya Stadium as Samoa were slow to find their feet, but it was the latter who opened the scoring through Alapati Leiua’s try.
The Bears responded well and two penalties from Kushnarev put them into the lead in the 25th minute. Samoa then received two yellow cards in three minutes when Lee-Lo and Matu’u were sent to the bin by referee Romain Poite. In both instances, the players appeared to make contact with Russian skipper Artemyev’s head, but Poite deemed that he was dipping into contact and that yellow cards were sufficient.
Samoa hit the ground running in the early stages of the second half, with Afaesetiti Amosa’s score and a quickfire Ed Fidow double taking the game away from Russia.
Lee-Lo and Leiua’s second wrapped up the scoring, with Russia held up on the line as they pressed in vain for a consolation try.