Tonga Keep Nottingham at Bay

In their first ever international match, hosts Nottingham Rugby welcomed Tonga Rugby to the Lady Bay Stadium in a World Cup warm up fixture on Friday night. In front of what was expected to be a sell-out crowd, both teams entered the arena of atmosphere and took to the pitch, promising onlookers with hard-hitting rugby.

The game kicked off and Nottingham were quick to showcase their rucking abilities, with strength rivalling that of the visitors. However Tonga made a fantastic break down the wing in the form of Telusa Veainu, who sprinted over the line to rack up the first points of the evening. A conversion by Latiume Fosita made the opening score 0-7.

Leicester Tigers’ new signing Opeti Fonua began a series of tries minutes later – originating from a scrum, Nottingham played foul and gave Tonga the ability to break and Fonua to crash under the posts, with an easy conversion taking it to 0-14 very early on in the game.

With the home support ever growing, the Green and Whites finally got a good chance to play the ball through various sets of hands, but a big hit and turn-over saw Tonga demand possession. Increasingly dominant at breakdowns, there was simply no competing with the Ikale Tahi at this point.

Nevertheless, Nottingham persisted and a quick run down the wing made up vital metres for the hosts. Winning the following lineout, they failed to keep hold of the ball and a charging steal from Tonga conjured another five points for the visitors. 0-19.

The restart was initially caught well by Tonga, but a bone-shaking tackle by Nottingham brought the ball to ground. If the home side were quicker at the breakdown then they would have earned possession and caught the Tongans off guard. However the lack of speed allowed the leaders to gain the ball and build pressure yet again.

A penalty in Nottingham’s favour gave them breathing space, and by winning the scrum they opened the gate for Tonga to misplace their composure, and disciplinary actions against Ikale Tahi for going over the top eventually saw Nottingham awarded a penalty try. Soane Tonga’uiha was sent to the bin for ten minutes after three successive penalties, and down to 14 men, Tonga led 7-19.

As the clock approached 40 minutes, mounting pressure from Tonga meant Nottingham’s defence was repeatedly worn thin. They managed to push the visitors back from the ten metre line twice consecutively, however a gap appeared and before Nottingham noticed it was try number three for Tonga; a scramble over the line which took the scoreboard to 7-26 at half time.

 

A pacey and energetic start to the second half saw mistakes unravel what was looking to be the usual world-class performance from the visitors. A deadly sprint to the line ended up was a ball-spill by Tonga, a somewhat pleasing sight for the home supporters. A scrum on the five metre line was won by Tonga, and by throwing it out to the left it gave Siale Piutau a superb try to make it 7-33.

Sosefo Ma’ake showed his incredible speed after the restart, eating up ground in seconds to take the ball up-field. It took three Nottingham players to bring down Sione Kalamafoni when he continued the run that Ma’ake began, and a turnover gave Nottingham the opportunity to add pressure. The Championship side started to look focused and used the ball efficiently along their attacking line, however when penalised at the breakdown they gave Tonga the chance to bundle and scramble their way to the line. 7-38 thanks to Fonua again, the conversion drifting wide.

Moments later saw a tiring Nottingham concede another try, 7-45, with Tonga firing on all cylinders and oozing confidence. A series of shattering blows on the hosts and slick handling proceeded Will Helu’s second try of the night, taking it to 7-52.

With the action all at the one end of the pitch, the Tongan scrum dominated action and their strength upfront was more than clear to see. A fourth Fonua try placed the score at 7-57 and Nottingham were beginning to look defeated.

Momentarily, they found form and the steely eyes of the Green and Whites spotted a hole in their oppositions defence, and a swift pass down the line saw Josh Skelcey go over and send the crowd into a frenzy. 14-57.

Tonga answered back with immense pressure, a strong run was followed by a converted try and a further five points in the dying minutes of the game declared Tonga as out and out victors 14-69.

 

A challenging final pre-season game for Nottingham, but a valuable and educating experience all the same. Ahead of their Championship start next weekend against the Cornish Pirates, the Green and Whites will be glad to have played in such a valiant and expert way against a formidable world-class team like Tonga. The Ikale Tahi will travel to Romania for next week’s warm up match, and knowing how experimental on pitch partnerships have fared during this game will help the side prepare for the World Cup. A great game all round, and one that supporters and players will not soon forget.

Main Photo