Fiji thwarts Samoa’s PNC ambitions

Fiji thwarted Samoa’s ambitions to go to the top of the Pacific Nations Cup table after a second half turnaround saw the home side clinch a 19-14 victory on Saturday.

In the earlier match, Japan narrowly beat Tonga 21-19 for their third straight Pacific Nations victory over the team after Tonga’s Tevita Halaifonua missed a last minute conversion attempt from wide out.

Samoa were the favourites going into the Fiji clash, with their only defeat from three matches this year a narrow one point loss to the Junior All Blacks.

The Samoans retain second spot after the loss but have a bye in the final round next week.

Fiji went into the half-time break 9-3 down and well behind in possession and territory, but showed greater steel in the second spell.

Both teams scored only a try apiece in the second half but Fiji’s greater passion and 14 points from the steady boot of inside centre Seremaia Bai made the difference.

The first half was tryless, with Samoa unable to turn a dominance of possession and territory into a big lead.

The pressure told though, with two of three penalties kicked by outside centre Gavin William coming from Fijian breakdown offences inside their own 22.

But the second half was a different story, with a revitalised Fiji playing with more passion and making fewer mistakes.

The home side was rewarded 10 minutes after the break when reserve back Vereniki Goneva scored the first try of the match.

Fijian hesitancy on defence saw Samoa hit back when a defender became trapped behind his own goal line under a pile of Samoan bodies, with reserve forward Ofisa Treviranus awarded the try.

Japan’s win in the earlier match, their first from three matches in the five-nation tournament this year, lifts them off the bottom of the table above Tonga, who are still to record a victory.

Japan have beaten Tonga for three straight years in the Pacific Nations Cup, providing their only wins in the four-year history of the tournament.

Victory was a close-run thing in the end, but reflected a two-thirds dominance of territory and a strong performance by the forwards, who were in charge in the lineouts and breakdowns.

They were supported by a backline led by the tactical nous of flyhalf James Arlidge and incisive running of inside centre Ryan Nicholas.

The physical Tongans had the best of the first 20 minutes of the match, outmuscling their leaner opponents, with inside centre Joseph Vaka, one of the standout players for Tonga, scoring the first try.

But Japan’s greater speed and precision saw them reply with tries by fullback Shaun Webb in the 22nd and 33rd minutes and taking a 15-7 halftime lead.

Tonga showed more commitment in the second spell with tries from hooker Ilaisa Ma’asi and winger Halaifonua, but Halaifonua missed the chance to even the scores.

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