Samoa edge out Tonga
June 13, 2010
Samoa 7s star Mikaele Pesamino crossed for the Test side in Apia © Getty Images
Samoa fought off a spirited Tonga challenge to open their Pacific Nations Cup campaign with a 24-23 victory in Apia.
Tries from Junior Poluleuigaga, Mikaele Pesamino and a penalty try carried the under-strength hosts to a narrow victory in sweltering heat to join Fiji at the to of the table following their 22-8 victory over Japan in Lautoka.
Tonga have never beaten Samoa in the PNC, but with a number of new players and coach, former All Black Isitolo Maka, the Ikale Tahi came the closest yet with Vungakoto Lilo and Alaska Taufai crossing for tries while Kurt Morath kicked 13 points.
Morath put the visitors ahead early in the first half before Samoa's fullback Paul Williams leveled the scores at 3-3, but the son of All Blacks' Bryan Williams missed two further penalties before Morath restored Tonga's three-point advantage with his second penalty. The Samoan forwards, who were dominant throughout the match, laid the platform for scrum half Junior Poluleuigaga to scamper over the line, however, with Sevens star Lolo Lui converting to give the hosts a 10-6 lead at half time.
After the restart Morath narrowed the scores to 10-9 with his third penalty after 51 minutes but five minutes later the Tongan defence were penalised as the Samoan forwards once again proved their superiority in the scrum and were awarded a penalty try which Lui converted. In the 65th minute Tonga clawed their way back into the match again, however, as a pass from Lui in attack saw Tongan full back Vungakato Lilo intercept and race 80 metres to cross under the posts despite the best efforts of Mikaele Pesamino.
The IRB Sevens Player of the Year Pesamino gave the crowd what they had been waiting for with 10 minutes to go, however, as he all but secured victory. After receiving the ball from Sevens teammate Uale Mai, he crossed in the corner and Lui added the difficult conversion, which would prove to be crucial, and give the hosts some breathing space at 24-16.
Tonga were not done yet though and scored an impressive try as their backs decided to run from deep with wing Alaska Taufa the beneficiary of some fine passing to score. Morath added the conversion to take his match tally to 13 and give Tonga some momentum heading into the next round of matches, but the Samoans held on to win their opening match 24-23.
Samoa play Japan next week whilst Tonga meet Fiji.