Tonga upset Fiji in PNC opener
July 2, 2011
Tonga's Kurt Morath contributed 20 points to propel his side to victory over Fiji © Getty Images
Tonga scored an upset in the opening game of this year's IRB Pacific Nations Cup with a 45-21 victory over Fiji at Churchill Park.
The Tongans, who failed to score a win in last year's competition, outscored their rivals five tries to two with Samiu Vahafolau, Alaska Taufa, Viliame Iongi, Alisona Taumalolo all crossing in addition to a penalty try and back it up with a superb defensive display to shackle their much-vaunted rivals. Fly-half Kurt Morath steered the visitors home with a 20-point haul courtesy of four penalties and four conversions.
The win was built on a stoic defensive effort by Tonga's back-row and centre pairing of Andrew Malilei and Alaska Taufa in particular, who succeeded in completely shutting down the potentially lethal Fijian pairing of Gaby Lovobalavu and Albert Vulivuli. The Fijians were given no space whatsoever and struggled to make an impact on the game.
Tonga took a 23-9 lead into half time after scoring two tries with Fiji's only response three penalties from the boot of Nicky Little. Fullback Vungakoto Lilo was in deft touch and proved a real handful, weaving and slicing his way through the Fijian midfield at will to set up tries for captain Vahafolau and Taufa. Things got even better for Tonga within minutes of the restart when Morath converted a penalty try and added a penalty to extend the lead to 33-9, but Fiji launched a threatening comeback midway through the half with two scintillating tries.
Fiji's first try started deep in their 22 and was launched by the brilliance of wing Vereniki Goneva, who weaved majestically through the Tongan defence, taking play up to halfway before offloading to his back-row in support with second row Sekonaia Kalou finished off the move.
The sin-binning of prop Alisona Taumalolo gave Fiji renewed hope and within minutes flanker Malakai Ravulo had touched down under the posts to cut the deficit to 33-21. Fiji were again camped on the Tongan line threatening to score their third try when a turnover resulted in Tongan flyer Viliame Iongi - who scored four tries on his Test debut in last month's Churchill Cup - running the length of the field to score under the posts.
The try guaranteed Tonga's fifth Pacific Nations Cup victory in five years - four of which have come against Fiji - but there was still time for Taumalolo to touch down just before the final whistle.
"I don't think the score reflected the tightness of the game. There were a couple of lucky tries which made the score look bigger than it should have. We won't kid ourselves, we have plenty of work to do," said Tonga coach Isitolo Maka.
Fiji coach Samu Domoni was not making any excuses for the result. "I can't fault our preparation for the game and the boys stuck to the game plan. We just didn't execute the basic skills well today and that hurt us."
The opening round also saw defending champions Samoa open their account with a 34-15 victory over Japan at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground in Tokyo. Alesana Tuilagi crossed twice in the first quarter hour as the Samoans made the most of some poor defensive work and the Japanese never really recovered.
Japan also weren't helped by their goal-kicking with two early penalties missed and it wasn't until midway through the half that they finally got on the scoreboard when Ryu Koliniasi Holani made the most of a strike against the head to go over from five metres out.
Shaun Webb then kicked a penalty only for Samoa to extend their lead when Manaia Salavea scored his side's third try just past the half hour. A far better performance in the second half saw the Brave Blossoms close to 24-15 thanks to a good try by Takehisa Usuzuki as the Japanese backs finally stretched the Samoan defence.
With Japan camped on the Samoan line for an extended period it seemed John Kirwan's charges were about to get within a score of the Samoans, but they were unable to turn all that pressure into points, with at least three opportunities wasted when the final pass failed to go to hand. George Pisi scored rubbed salt into the wound by scoring against the run of play on the hour as Samoa ensured there was no way back for Japan.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.