Tonga stun Italy with late drop-goal
October 10, 1999
Tonga full-back Sateki Tuipulotu is congratulated by Sililo Martens after his drop-goal
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Full-back Sateki Tuipulotu hit a drop goal with the last kick of the game to snatch a dramatic 28-25 victory for Tonga in their Group B encounter with Italy on Sunday.
Poor Italy. It was a night to be remembered for rugby thrills and spills but it was yet another blow for them. They lost in the dying seconds of injury time the only game of the world cup that was deemed within their reach. They lost after being in control and throwing chances away, after clawing their way back and refusing to give in. Their new found heart and soul could do nothing to stop the Tonga bolt out the blue, a drop goal seconds before the final whistle and only one minute after Italy had levelled the score with a penalty goal.
The match started with Italy very much in the driving seat with Dominguez in great form, ruthlessly punishing any slip ups in Tonga's discipline. In the end, his game tally came to seven successful kicks out of eight. But Italian superiority only lasted 25 minutes. In the last quarter of the first half the "azzurri" suffered a fifteen minute black out time enough for Tonga to put 18 points on the scoreboard and take the lead. Tonga scored their first of three tries in the 25th minute when an adventurous attack by two rampant Tongans caught four Italians napping.
Four minutes later a counter attack by Italy's full back Matthew Pini ended with a loose pass into the hands of his opposite number, Sateki Tu'ipulotu, who didn't need asking twice. He crossed the line and then converted the try. The first half finished with Tonga 18-12 in the lead. Then in the second half Italy threw everything they had into the game. Unfortunately also the kitchen sink. The game became fervid, intense and patchy.
Italy scored an early try with hooker Alessandro Moscardi but then failed to deliver the punch that would knock Tonga out. The "azzurri" created chances and retained possession but it became obvious they would pay dearly for their mistakes when Moscardi had the ball in his hands with three men outside and one defender, and inexplicably tried to charge through giving away an almost certain try.
Italy, leading 22-18, needed to keep their cool and tight reins on their discipline. The passion they lacked in Twickenham, against England a week before, drew them, however, into playing Tonga's game. The "azzurri" gave away an enormous number of penalties even when they were the ones applying the pressure. It was stop- start rugby which Tonga took advantage of .
Italy grimly hung on to the lead, 22-18, until the 78th minute. Then Tonga's forward replacement 'Isileli Fatani scored a try which, converted, put his team 25-22 ahead with just one minute to go. But the drama was not over. There was still time for Dominguez to kick three points through the posts to level the score and, just as the Italian supporters were breathing a sigh of relief, Sateki Tu'ipulotu scored a drop goal which gave his team much to celebrate.
With the All Blacks as Italy's next challenge captain Massimo Giovanelli was proud of his team's performance but sorry that Italy's World Cup will almost certainly finish without a victory.
Tongan coach David Waterston instead could claim that their World Cup dream is still alive. England are next.
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