Courageous Tonga push the JAB's
Right from the outset the Haka was greeted with a stirring counter challenge from Tonga, this cemented their courage for a thrilling test.
Written off, tired, injury stricken, homesick and struggling were all words flown around about Tonga prior to kickoff. Courage and lots of it are the words now, these men showed tremendous resolve, they were up against a mighty Junior All Blacks side and they pushed them big time today. In the process they will have little kids in Tonga running around in the villages replicating their fine team.
Now looking at the team in black, it reads like a Hollywood of rugby. Sione Lauaki, Stephen Brett, Hosea Gear, Anthony Tuitavake are just a few of the names. Each would do the All Blacks proud and today Tonga refused to take a backwards step against them. I am sure they have respect for them, but more importantly they showed unbelievable pride in their own red jersey today. As the hooter went the Junior All Blacks were lining up to swap test jumpers, this is the ultimate sign of what was dished up to them today, the JAB’s were forced to dig super deep and earn the win today.
Tonga had the early vigor and played the game in the right zones, they were soon rewarded with a fine try to rangy lock Emosi Kauhenga for their efforts, this made the crowd sit up & Tonga believe in the possible. Rene Danger Ranger was the first man in black to add zing to today’s feast of rugby; he collected some kicks and returned the ball with huge capital interest. From out on the wing he was the most urgent of the NZ side and they owe a lot to him, it was through him that the team finally awoke and got themselves back in this match.
Watching the tussle the crowd was getting more and more supportive of the underdog, Tonga kept in the face of the JAB’s team and for the first time on Fiji soil they started to look beatable. Passes were far from fluid & men were having a cheeky look up at a Tonga missile before they caught the ball. All this heat made for numerous exciting passages of play, big hits were made from both sides and the loose pill was grabbed and spun at all costs.
Tick tock was going along nicely and Tonga was still in the hunt. It is at times like this that class surfaces and outstanding wing weapon Hosea Gear dotted down for 2 tries in 3 minutes. Unlike past matches the floodgates didn’t open they were slammed shut instead. Nearing the half time break the NZ side was starting to look good, but right before the whistle blew Teumuli Kaufusi the openside for Tonga finished off a sparkling try, the ball went through the backs and forwards and they headed into the break with a deserved lead.
The second spell was the same as the first, Tonga were desperate, the JAB’s were firing their big guns at will and the contest was getting more and more interesting as time went on. Alipate Fatafehi at centre for Tonga sparked the run of the match, he went straight through the middle and the ball went left to young wing Magteo Malupo to score.
Now speaking of intimidating, after 61 minutes it was only 26-25 to the NZ side, on ran a rampant Victor Vito and this was the injection the team was needing. The JAB’s started to play power forward stuff, the rolling maul was engaged and they went about the business of sapping Tonga of energy. To the Tongan’s credit they saved numerous 5 pointers that could of/should of been scored, it is not easy to stop Ranger and Tuitavake in their tracks, but they did.
In desperate times desperate measures are required and Tonga were getting pinged for some work around the rucks, the Ref reached into his pockets and out came 2 crucial yellow cards. Now all of a sudden it was 13 against 15, but again this team dug deeper than before and extended every effort to stay in the match. The NZ team used slickness and commonsense to utilize the extra numbers and rattled up tries to Alby Mathewson & Robbie Freun in the 73rd and 75th minutes. These were the killer blows and the match was done & ended up reading 47-25.
Hosea Gear continued his scintillating form with another try at full time, this is another brace of 3 in a match and he has let the rugby powers know he is in great nick.
As unusual as it seems, it is not often you leave a match and walk away thinking of the team that came second; this is exactly what happened today. These men played with spirit, they never gave up and gave the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup the match we have been waiting for. Joseph Vaka a back by trade made a statement at number 6 today, his hunting partner at 7 was also superb as was the entire pack.
Tonga stood tall today, they leave Fiji on the wrong end of the ladder, but no other team so far could be more proud after what they left on the rugby pitch today. They are simply men with hearts like Farlap.