Tonga produces winning burst

From correspondents in Lautoka, Fiji
June 16, 2007

TONGA registered its first win in the Pacific Nations Cup rugby championship after producing a second-half revival to defeat Fiji 21-15 at Churchill Park in Lautoka, Fiji.

Tonga, bolstered by the return of six Europe-based players, had too much power for Fiji, which blooded seven debutants, in a match that rarely produced the running flair expected from island rugby.

Fiji led 15-6 at the break and continued to hold its own in the opening stages of the second half.

But Fiji's inability to quell the superior firepower of the Tonga pack saw the home side fall away as the game wore on, conceding three unanswered tries in the final 20 minutes.

Tonga dominated possession and territory in the first half, but it was undone by wayward passing and handling lapses that resulted in a steady stream of turnover ball.

The mistakes forced Tonga to reappraise its game plan at half-time.

"(Tonga decided) to run it straight up the middle and play in the forwards more since Fiji's backline was very well structured,'' Tonga captain Nili Latu, a Super 14 player for the Hurricanes, said.

"It's been a bad couple of weeks for us so today we had to play with more guts, and we are happy."

Fiji's game fell apart as Tonga gained momentum, with the home side becoming indecisive on attack, conceding frequent penalties - six in a row at one stage - and losing 80 per cent of its lineouts.

"I think some of us need to really look at ourselves," Fiji captain Mosese Rauluni said.

"Today we were taught a rugby lesson by the Tongans."

Fiji took an early lead when 21-year-old fly-half Waisea Luvenivali, on Test debut, landed a confidence-boosting penalty in the third minute.

The home side increased its advantage to 8-0 when a bullocking forward surge drove lock Kele Leawere over the line in the 17th minute.

Tonga registered its first points with a penalty by Mesiu Lemoto, who landed just two of seven shots at goal.

Fiji increased its advantage shortly before half-time, Gabiriele Lovobalavu crossing for a converted try after an end-to-end surge from turnover ball.

Lemoto immediately replied with his second penalty.

Tonga took the lead only in the 63rd minute, after unconverted tries from Brive centre Suka Hufanga and Worcester hooker Aleki Latui.

Tonga closed the scoring on the stroke of full-time with an uncoverted try from Biarritz back row Samiu Vahafolau.

Fiji plays Australia A in its final cup match next week, in Suva, while Tonga hosts Samoa in Apia.


Report Card

Tonga 21
(Suka Hufanga, Aleki Lutui, Samiu Vahafolau tries; Mesiu Lemoto 2 penalty goals)
FIJI 15 (Kele Leawere, Gabiriele Lovobalavu tries; Waisea Luvenivali conversion, penalty goal).
At Churchill Park, Lautoka, Fiji