Samoa almost upset Baby (All) Blacks

Samoa came within a whisker of a boilover in the opening round of the Pacific Nations Cup, going down 17-16 against the more fancied Junior All Blacks.


In the other opening round match, Fiji ended a three-match losing streak against South Pacific neighbours Tonga in a 36-22 victory in the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa Saturday local time.


The Junior All Blacks defended desperately to hold out Samoa in the final minutes, after taking a 14-0 lead into halftime. Two rushed drop goal attempts in the dying stages from Samoa’s replacement flyhalf Uale Mai sailed wide to the relief of the second string All Black side.


Samoan captain George Stowers said his team started too slowly to grab control of the match, while a relieved Juniors captain Tamati Ellison said the result could easily have gone the other way.


“We probably didn’t apply enough pressure,” said Ellison.


“Credit to them, they stuck to it right till the end there,” he said.


The Samoans fluffed two try opportunities in the first half, while the Juniors showed more composure with winger Hosea Gear scoring one try and making another for fullback Israel Dagg.


Outside centre Gavin Williams brought the home side back into contention in the second spell with two penalties and an unconverted try against a solitary penalty from Juniors flyhalf Colin Slade.


Replacement winger Esera Lauina went over in the corner to put Samoa within a point, but the Junior’s defence were able to hang on until the final whistle.


Fiji ran in five tries to three in the Tongan capital after taking a 19-8 halftime lead.


Coach Ilivasi Tabua said the win set Fiji up for a strong showing in the competition and said his team’s confidence had been boosted ahead of Thursday’s home clash against the Junior All Blacks at Churchill Park, Lautoka.


“We set ourselves a goal at the beginning of the PNC and to start off well here in Tonga… we can create history by what happened today and move to the future,” Tabua told Tongan radio.


Big Ulster-based winger Timoci Nagusa scored two first-half tries for Fiji, who never looked like losing after fighting back after Tonga touched down in the opening minutes.


Fiji’s talented backline made big inroads through Nagusa, flyhalf Alipate Tani — who scored the final try — and fullback Dan Rawaqa, who scored 11 points with his boot despite missing two first-half penalties.


The Pacific Nations Cup pits the three island countries of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga against Japan and the Junior All Blacks, with the rest of the tournament to be held over two weeks in Fiji.


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