Fiji beats Tonga 29-19 in Pasifika Challenge
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Fiji advanced its preparation for the Rugby World Cup by beating Tonga 29-19 in a Pasifika Challenge test at Eden Park on Saturday.
Tonga scored the first try after only two minutes and led for most of the first half. But two brilliant pieces of skill by scrumhalf Frank Lomani gave Fiji its first lead in the 37th minute and allowed it to take a 17-12 lead to halftime.
Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu scored soon after halftime, making it 24-12, and Fiji was able to ease to a convincing win.
Brilliant handling and passing among backs and forwards paved the way for Fiji’s win and re-emphasized they will be a danger to Tier One teams at the World Cup which begins in Japan in three weeks.
While Fiji lost its Pacific Nations Cup title to Japan this month, it has built steadily towards the world tournament.
The increasing availability of its overseas-based players has strengthened its lineup and the team it fielded on Saturday was likely similar to the one it will field in its first match at the World Cup, against Australia on Sept. 21.
Discipline was generally good but both teams finished with 14 men after back-rowers Maama Vaipulu for Tonga and Peceli Yato for Fiji were sin-binned late. Tonga’s forward play was well organized and it took its tries from unified driving.
Tonga started in that fashion as it’s forwards worked hard to drive captain Siale Piutau over the line to take a 7-0 lead after only two minutes.
Fiji replied in the eighth minute when Jousa Tuisova scored off an intercept by Semi Radradra.
Another Tonga drive created a try for Paula Nagauamo and the Ikale Tahi led 12-7 midway through the first half.
Lomani made his first impact in the 23rd, winning possession and creating a try for winger Vereniki Goneva after quick hands by Levani Botia and Leone Nakarawa.
Lomani’s overhead pass made a try for Semi Kunatani which gave Fiji its narrow halftime lead.
Waqaniburotu’s try and another to Sam Matavesi gave Fiji a 29-12 lead before Tonga hit back with another drive and a try to Sosefo Sakalia. The match lost a little of its structure in the last quarter but Fiji defended well to retain a 10-point margin.
Earlier, Crusaders prop Michael Alaalatoa scored two tries on debut as Samoa beat a New Zealand Heartland selection 36-19. Kane Leaupepe also scored a double for Samoa in the match against a selection drawn from New Zealand’s second and third divisions.