Junior All Blacks made to work
July 2, 2009
The Junior All Blacks' perfect record in this year's Pacific Nations Cup was almost squandered before they went on to defeat Tonga 47-25, celebrating their tournament victory in style at the National Stadium in Suva, Fiji.
This year's winners, who had won the tournament with a game to spare last week, were trailing 20-12 at half-time to a side yet to win a match in the tournament. The Junior All Blacks made lots of handling errors early on and conceded plenty of turnover in the face of the typically aggressive Tongans.
Lock Emosi Kauhenga put Tonga in the lead with his first try in seven Pacific Nations Cup matches as captain Pierre Hola converted before adding a penalty to give them a surprise 10-0 lead. Wing Hosea Gear scored two tries in three minutes to put this year's champions in front but it was short lived as flanker Muli Kaufusi landed Tonga's second try and Hola converted just before the break leaving the Junior All Blacks trailing 20-12.
Rene Ranger and Sione Lauaki scored tries for the Junior All Blacks early in the second half but winless Tonga were not deterred and wing Mateo Malupo scored a try to bring them within a point of the champions. The introduction of Junior All Black Victor Vito proved to be the turning point as his devastating runs tired the Tongans and they lost their discipline resulting in scrum-half Mahe Fangupo and Malupo receiving yellow cards from English referee Dave Pearson.
The match was only secured in the final eight minutes as the extra man proved crucial. Scrum-half Alby Mathewson and replacement Robert Fruean scored a try apiece before Gear landed his third to secure a hat-trick and his eighth try of the tournament.
The victory for the Junior All Blacks means that in the four-year history of the competition each New Zealand side competing has won all their games after New Zealand Maori won it last year and the Junior All Blacks won in 2006 and 2007.
In the final game of the tournament, Fiji secured their best ever finish by defeating Japan 40-39 in a thrilling contest. Netani Talei was the hero for the Fijians, forcing his way over in the final minute and giving centre Seremaia Bai a simple conversion to win the game.
A late try from Takashi Kikutani looked to have sealed victory for John Kirwan's Japan, but Talei's last gasp intervention ensured that the hosts leapfrogged Samoa in to second place in the table.