Upset wins for Fiji and Japan in PNC
July 9, 2011
Japan head coach John Kirwan was enthused by his side's victory over Tonga © Getty Images
The Pacific Nations Cup is anyone's for the taking after Japan and Fiji registered shocked victories over Tonga and Samoa during the second round of games in Suva on Saturday.
Tonga had kicked off their campaign with an impressive 45-21 victory over Fiji in Lautoka last weekend and were heavy favourites against a Japanese side which had underperformed badly in a 34-15 defeat at the hands of Samoa.
The Cherry Blossoms started brightly, though, with No.8 Ryukoliniasi Holani flopping over just five minutes in after a quick tap had caught the Tongans napping. However, they then gifted their opponents two tries, with Tonga flanker Viliami Ma'afu touching down after blocking an attempted clearance before fly-half Kurt Morath claimed an intercept try.
Crucially, though, Japan hauled themselves right back into the game when Kosuke Endo dived over shortly before the interval. They were still trailing, 17-14, as the two sides went off for half-time but the initiative was know with the Japanese and they stunned Tonga with two converted tries, from Endo, again, and Koji Taira, to take complete control of the contest.
The shell-shocked Tongans rallied in the final quarter with Morath landing a penalty before then being on hand to convert Hudson Tonga'uiha's late try, thus drawing the Polynesians to within a point. However, Japan held firm in the remaining seven minutes to claim a dramatic 28-27 victory.
Kirwan commented after the game: "Tonga is the most improved side in the tournament so far and got a good win against Fiji last week. We knew that this was a big game for us. I am really happy with the courage our boys showed. The Japanese style of rugby is running around. I am very pleased what the players showed."
Tonga's second bonus point means that they still top the table on six points but they are now just one clear of their three rivals for the title. That is because Fiji bounced back from their disappointing opening-day defeat by the Tongans with a 36-18 victory over Samoa later in the day.
Fiji had gone into the game under real pressure on the back of their underwhelming performance in Lautoka but they were given a nice early boost when, with just eight minutes gone, Vereniki Goneva intercepted the ball inside his 22 before racing away to score the game's opening try.
Samoa responded well to falling behind and penalties from Tasesa Lavea and James So'oialo, and a breakaway try from Sailosi Tagicakibau saw them move 11-10 ahead after 22 minutes of play. However, they then lost Filipo Levi to the sin bin just four minutes before the break for a stamp and Fiji took advantage, with Campese Ma'afu touching down right on the stroke of half-time.
Fiji struck again six minutes into the second half through centre Ravai Fatiaki and pulled 29-11 clear when fullback Taniela Rawaqa sprinted away for a try which was converted by replacement Waisea Luveniyali.
Samoa replied through Timoteo Iosua but Fiji had the final say, with lock Sekonaia Kalou finishing well after pouncing on a loose ball to seal a victory which now leaves the tournament beautifully balanced ahead of next weekend's final round of fixtures.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ireland have the world sitting up and taking notice - and rugby's structure in Europe will aid their Rugby World Cup bid, writes John Mitchell
Where does Italy's win over Scotland rank among their successes in the Six Nations? Scrum Sevens investigates
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown