PNC: Tonga and Samoa score wins in opening round
Tonga has scored their first win in three years of the PNC with an impressive five tries to two, 45-21 win over Fiji in the first match of the 2011 IRB Pacific Nations Cup this afternoon in Lautoka Fiji.
On a postcard perfect day in the sugar city, Tonga outplayed Fiji in all facets of the game and turned in a mammoth defensive effort to shut down a potentially potent Fijian backline.
A personal haul of 20 points to fly-half Kurt Morath was just one of a number of highlights for the friendly islanders. Morath well and truly had the radar honed as he landed four conversions and four penalties as part of a great afternoon for the Australian-based fly-half.
The win was built on top of 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 Lovobalavu and 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 unanswered tries in the first half. Tonga's fullback, Vungakoto was in deft touch and proved a handful in both of Tonga's first half tries - weaving and slicing his way through the Fijian midfield at will to set up Vahalau and Centre Taufa for Tonga's first half tries.
Tonga scored a further try and penalty in the opening of the second stanza to extend their lead to 33-9 before Fiji launched a threatening comeback mid-way in the second half with two scintillating tries.
Fiji's first try started deep in their 22 and it was launched by the brilliance of winger Vereniki Goneva who weaved majestically through the Tongan defence, taking play up to the halfway before offloading to his back row in support. Second rower Sokonaia Kalou finished off touching down in the 59th minute. The conversion was missed. 33-14 Tonga.
A penalty and Yellow Card against Tongan prop Taumalol was converted by Fiji and Flanker Ravulo was under the posts for Fiji's second try of the afternoon. Converted by Little. 33-21 Tonga.
Fiji were again camped on the Tongan line threatening to score their 3rd try, when a turnover resulted in Tongan flyer Viliame Iongi running the length of the field to score under the posts and give Tonga an unassailable 40-21 lead in the 77th minute. Another try on fulltime blew the score line out to 45 -21.
Tonga's Coach Isitolo Maka was happy with the win but was wary of not getting carried away. "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".
However he was delighted with the performance of centres Mailei and Taufa. "I put a lot of pressure on my centres during the week because I knew they had to step up against Lovobalavu and Vulivuli. But they just kept tackling and I'm just so happy with their performance".
Fijian 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” he said.
Fiji fielded three debutants in their side today. Lock Tevita Cavubati, France-based Fullback Kini Murimurivalu (the captain of the Fiji team at the 2008 Oceania U19 Championship) and Reserve prop Penijamani Makutu all earned their first caps for Fiji this afternoon.
Round 1 concludes later this evening when Samoa take on Japan in Tokyo. Round 2 moves to Suva next weekend for the exciting ‘World Cup Preview’ with Samoa taking on Fiji and Tonga taking on Japan.
SAMOA 34-15 JAPAN
Samoa kicked off the defence of their Pacific Nations Cup title with victory over Japan at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground in Tokyo on Saturday.
Alesana Tuilagi crossed in the second and 14th minutes as the Samoans made the most of some poor one-on-one tackling to lead 17-0 with 15 minutes on the clock 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 the 20th minute 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 to give the crowd of 9,700 something to cheer about.
Shaun Webb kicked a penalty 12 minutes later only for Samoa to extend their lead when Manaia Salavea scored his side’s third try in the 34th minute.
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 in the 59th minute as Samoa ensured there was no way back for Japan.
The action now moves to the Fijian capital of Suva next Saturday for two mouth-watering encounters between sides who will meet again in the pool stages of Rugby World Cup 2011 with Fiji facing Samoa and Tonga tackling Japan.