05 July 2008

Tonga sign off with first victory

Tonga finished their IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2008 campaign on a high by defeating Fiji 27-16 at Teufaiva Stadium in Nuku’alofa on Saturday, securing their first win of the season to the delight of the watching King Taufa’ahu Tupou V of Tonga.

The Tongans had lost on the road to New Zealand Maori (20-9), Japan (35-13) and Australia A (90-7) before collecting a first bonus point in losing 20-15 to Samoa last weekend, but they had never lost to Fiji since the PNC began in 2006.

Both sides made their intentions clear early on with a hard and fast start to what was an entertaining and heart-stopping match, Fiji enjoying the wealth of early possession and perhaps ruing their failure to score a try or two in the opening 15 minutes.

Tonga dug deep and seized their first real opportunity when their powerhouse forward pack drove on and returned to halfway with a try for captain and flanker Nili Latu, one of his side’s stars at Rugby World Cup 2007.

Fiji did play their running game and continued to punch holes in the centres, although this flair caused the home crowd to go wild and produce even more noise when a robust Tongan ended the movement with a great tackle.

The home side seemed to get more bulletproof as the game went on, the chance to impress on home soil kept them charging and in the end Tonga were simply too strong, their impressive pack laying the platform for the victory.

Epeli Taione caught the eye in the centre, carving up the metres to earn his reward with a late try to put the gloss on a Tongan victory that was followed by scenes of dancing and hugging as the crowd joined their heroes on the pitch in celebration.

The final round of the IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2008 continues with Samoa entertaining Japan at Apia Park on Saturday before Australia A and New Zealand Maori clash in Sydney to determine who gets their hands on the silverware.

Match details:

Tonga: 1. Semisi Telefoni 2. Ephraim Taukafa 3. Kisi Pulu 4. Milton Ngauamo 5. Paino Hehea 6. Hale T Pole 7. Nili Latu (Captain) 8. Samiu Vahafolau 9. Enele Taufa 10. Pierre Hola 11. Sukanaivalu Hufanga 12. Epeli Taione 13. Hudson Tonga'uiha 14. Samisoni Pone 15. Vungakoto Lilo.

Replacements: 16. Viliami Ma'asi 17. Tonga Lea'aetoa 18. Joshua Afu 19. Viliami Vaki 20. Soane Havea 21. Fangatapu 'Apikotoa 22. Seti Kiole.

Fiji: 1. Graham Dewes 2. Sunia Koto 3. Jone Taginayayusa 4. Joveci Domolailai 5. Kele Leawere (Captain) 6. Deryck Thomas 7. Aca Ratuvca 8. Netani Talei 9. Aporosa Vata Tunisau 10. Waisea Luveniyali 11. Vereniki Goneva 12. Saula Radidid 13. Sireli Nagelevuki 14. Jerry Tuilevu 15. Taniela Maravunwasawasa.

Replacements: 16 Vereniki Racagi 17. Viliame Seuseu 18 Rupeni Nasiga 19. Sailosi Rabonaqica 20. Nemia Kenatale Ranuku 21. Jonetani Ralulu 22. Iliesa Keresoni.

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