Pacific Nations Cup: Samoa Defeat Tonga

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The Pacific Nations Cup has ended, with the final game seeing Samoa defeat Tonga 30-10 in front of a very vocal crowd at Apia Park. That loss denied the Tongans a victory to celebrate skipper Nili Latu’s 50th cap.

The Samoans; who were unlucky against the Fijians last week, dictated play from the start to keep their hopes alive for qualification to Tokyo 2019. The qualification process runs for two years in Oceania, and PNC winner Fiji and Samoa have the upper hand now. Depending how Samoa finish next season, if they win or finish second, they will join Fiji at the Rugby World Cup in four years time.

Finishing third, Tonga will have to go through to battle with European qualifiers unless they can finish higher in 2017. That is the importance of this Pacific nations competition and with World Rugby’s support, important outcomes. As reported in the Fiji v Georgia match, the use of International referees will improve the quality of matches.

The South Sea Islands teams will be happy with the challenge faced at home. All three plan to head north in November for their next International fixtures, and they will be hoping that European clubs release their best players. The clash within the ‘Global season’ is still a contentious issue. World Rugby have protocols in place, and each will request the release of players contracted to UK and French sides. With those men, they could compete with their first-choice sides against the Tier One nations later this year.

Samoa defeat Tonga in Pacific Nations Cup

The game was very physical from the start, big hits coming from the first contest. With the Tongans constantly dropping the ball in their own half. The lost possesion wouls see the Samoans find space through Rey Lee-Lo but his last pass was slapped down by Otulea Katoa. After consultation with his touch judge Nick Briant, referee Pascal Gauzere awarded a penalty try for a deliberate knock on. Katoa was sent to the bin also, for a 7-0 lead to the home side with conversion from Patrick Fa’apale.

Samoa continued the pressure and Fa’atiga Lemalu was at the back of a driving maul to cross the line. A good return, to increase their lead to 14-0 but the Tongans pulled one back through a penalty to Tane Takulua. Manu Samoa still maintained a lead, which they extended with another penalty to Fa’apale minutes later; 17-3.

The Samoans dictated all facets of play in the first half, with front rowers Census Johnston and Sakaria Taulafo in control. With Faiafili Levave, Lemalu and Alafoti Faosiliva making the advantage line and good metres. Even with that, good defence from the Tongan loose trio of Latu (pictured) Jack Ram and Sione Kalamafoni kept them at bay. Two more penalties to Fa’apale gave the Samoans a halftime lead of 23-3.

Samoa with the Upper-hand at Halftime

Samoa began the second half like they did the first. Latu had been injured late in the first half, so the Tongans were bound to struggle at the breakdown for this half. Unfortunately, Samoa looked flat in the first quarter of the half, so replacements came on early. Sale Sharks super-sub TJ Ioane made his entrance, along with his trademark dreadlocks. David Tusitala, also entered the match. He has featured in all Samoa’s national teams this year–Samoa A, the sevens team and now the XVs team–which is a phenomenal achievement for a player in a single calendar year.

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Beside that injection, the hosts were still in sleep mode when replacement Tongan lock Opeti Fonua did what he did last weekend against Georgia. Coming off the bench to score after a nice break from Latiume Fosita, which was converted to narrow the deficit 23-10.

The see-saw battle continued, until finally super-subs Ioane (pictured) combined well with Tusitala to run 50 meters for a try. That took the scores out to 30-10, with Fa’apale again on song with his conversion. They held on well to the end, sending the hometown fans away happy as Samoa defeat Tonga to finish second in the Pacific Nations Cup.

Samoa  30

15. Malu Falaniko 14. Fa’atoaina Autagavaia 13, Paul Perez 12. Rey Lee-Lo 11. David Lemi 10. Patrick Fa’apale 9. Pele Cowley 8. Alafoti Faosiliva 7. Greg Foe 6. Faifili Levave 5. Fa’atiga Lemalu 4. Jeff Lepa 3. Census Johnston 2. Manu Leiataua 1. Sakaria Taulafo

Replacements: 16. Seilala Lam 17. Sam Aiono 18. Viliamu Afatia 19. Filo Paulo 20. TJ Ioane 21 Danny Tusitala 22. D’Angelo Leuila 23. Albert Nikoro

Tonga  10

15. Tevita Halifonua 14. Otulea Kato 13. Apakuki Ma’afu 12. Latiume Fosita 11. Viliame Iongi 10. Martin Naufahu 9. Tane Takulua 8. Sione Kalamafoni 7. Jack Ram 6. Nili Latu 5. Dan Faleafa 4. Uli Kolo’ofa’i 3. Sila Puafisi 2. Elvis Taione 1. Sosefo Sakalia

Replacements: 16. Sione Angaelangi 17. Eddie Aholelei 18. Sione Faletau 19. Opeti Fonua 20. Sione Tau 21. Wayne Ngaluafe 22. Viliami Hakalo 23. Daniel Kilioni

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“Main photo courtesy of the Manu Samoa facebook page”