Ikale Tahi have continued their strong performance in their end of year tour triumphing over the USA Eagles 40-12 at Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester.
In front of a vocal crowd of 8,949 both sides put on a solid performance, which served as a possible preview of the Rugby World Cup 2015 team Tonga may field. With only one change in the side that defeated Georgia last weekend, Tonga took the the ground with confidence.
USA, fielding a side impacted by notable injuries and absences from their recent games against New Zealand and Romania, still looked competitive throughout the 80 minutes. Usual captain Todd Clever started from the bench, with key play makers like Blaine Scully also absent, but this was not an under strength side by any means, as solid attacking runs from all angles showed.
USA also put the first points on the board after a thrilling run by Tim Stanfill following on from a penalty kick for territory from Kurt Morath which went out over the try line. Tonga hit back quickly though, with a picture perfect penalty goal from Morath, which was then added to by a scything run from Fetu’u Vainikolo to put the ‘Ikale Tahi 8-7 up.
Both sides threw everything the had at the game, although USA was hit hard by a yellow card to acting captain Scott LaValla mid way through the first half. Morath maintained a largely accurate game with the boot, and Tonga’s consistent pressure stood them in good stead throughout the 80 minutes.
John Quill managed to cross the line again for USA from a maul, the IRB feed dropping at a crucial moment to deny fans the visual of the try itself, with Niua missing the conversion. After an action packed first half Tonga went into the break leading 14 – 12
The second half was almost clinical on the behalf of ‘Ikale Tahi. Solid phase play, intelligent ball handling, and good field presence saw Viliami Ma’afu, Nili Latu and Vungakoto Lilo all over the line. Equally as impressive was the Tongan defence, absorbing multiple phases close to their try line to ultimately force the penalty and clear the ball out.
The Gloucester rugby fans that turned out in full voice to cheer for their own in Sione Kalamafoni, Aleki Lutui and Sila Puafisi were given plenty to cheer about. The team performed well as a solid unit, and aside from some handling errors in the final 15 minutes, and issues with high tackles, ‘Ikale Tahi always looked like the more dominant team.
‘Ikale Tahi now heads north to take on Scotland at Kilmarnock next weekend in what will be likely be their biggest test of the tour.
Tries: Vainikolo, Ma’afu, Lilo, Halaifonua, Latu
Conversions: Morath (2) Fosita
Penalties: Morath (3)
Tries: Stanfill, Quill
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