June International Tours

Tonga pip Fiji in Lautoka

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Tonga notched up their first win of the Pacific Nations Cup on Saturday, coming from behind to regisitering a tense 21-15 victory over Fiji at Churchill Park in Fiji.

The visitors scored three unanswered tries in the second half to recorded their first on Fijian soil since a 24-11 triumph in Suva in 1993.

The Tongans had come into the match at Churchill Park – a venue they had never won at in 44 years of trying – buoyed by a promising performance against the Junior All Blacks in Nuku’alofa last weekend, but with only one point from three rounds.

However, that elusive first victory looked unlikely with Fiji still maintaining their 15-6 half time advantage as the hour mark passed, Tonga paying the price for three penalties missed in the first half by their debutant fullback Mesiu Lemoto.

That was until Tonga’s second half performance was rewarded with two tries in the space of six minutes, the first from Suka Hufanga after an initial break from wing Seti Kiole. Hufanga dummied to pass to a man outside, only to roll around to touch the ball down.

Lemoto missed the conversion, but more relentless pressure from the Tongan forwards resulted in a try for hooker Aleki Lutui that gave his side the lead for the first time in the match, albeit only by a point – 16-15 after another miss from the fullback.

The Fijians tried to hit back, but it seemed as though they would suffer another one point loss to Tonga, having lost 24-23 in the inaugural tournament in 2006. However, deep into injury-time number eight Samiu Vahafalau powered over the line to complete the comeback.

Fiji had struggled to find any rhythm in the second half, a far cry from their previous encounter at Churchill Park on 26 May when they rallied from 15-3 down at half time against Japan to pick up their opening victory with a 30-15 scoreline.

They had though taken a third minute lead with a penalty from fly half Waisea Luveniyali, one of three players handed debuts by Fiji coach Ilivasi Tabua, before second row Kele Leawere’s try 10 minutes later made it 8-0 to the home side.

Lemoto kicked a penalty on his third attempt for Tonga to cut the deficit, before inside centre Gabiriele Lovobalavu scored Fiji’s second try late in the first half. Luveniyali converted the try, only for a Lemoto penalty to send his side in trailing 15-6.

“We came back in the second half with full determination. The boys had more patience and controlled the game then followed the momentum,” Tonga head coach Quddus Fielea said afterwards.

“Samiu Vahafolau played very well at number eight. He was winning balls in the line-outs, fast to the breakdown, and put in some heavy tackles to put pressure on the Fijians. And I thought our front rowers were awesome.”

His counterpart Tabua added: “We knew that they would play it close and defend well in the rucks and the scrums. That’s their strong points. We played well in the first half, but your scrimmaging was pushed around after the break and we didn’t control the game.

“We gave away so many penalties. We were penalised at the breakdown for coming in at the wrong side of the rucks. Our line-outs were not really there and these are areas we need to work on before the game against Australia A next week.”

Tonga’s victory means that the race to be the leading South Sea islanders in the Pacific Nations Cup will go right down to the final weekend. Samoa, who Tonga face in Apia, occupy that position at present with eight points, one more than Fiji and two than Tonga.

The scorers:

For Tonga:
Tries: Hufanga, Lutui, Vahafolau
Pens: Lemoto 2

For Fiji:
Tries: Leawere, Lovobalavu
Con: Luvenivali
Pen: Luvenivali

The teams:

Fiji: 15 Norman Ligairi, 14 Michael Tagicakibau, 13 Kameli Ratuvou, 12 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 11 Is

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