Late charge gives Tonga win over Fiji

A two-try closing burst lifted Tonga to their first win in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup rugby tournament when they came from behind to beat Fiji 27-16 on Saturday.

The four tries to two bonus-point victory also allowed Tonga to maintain an unbeaten record against their traditionally stronger Fijian rivals in the three-year history of the tournament.

In the final round match in the six-nation tournament, third-placed Fiji looked to be in control when they led 16-15 four minutes from time before Tonga’s standout performers Nili Latu and Epi Taione bagged tries.

The late scoring spree, boosted by a conversion from Fangatapu Apikatoa, was in sharp contrast to the opening stages of the match when Fiji dominated possession and territory.

Their preference for moving the ball wide tested the Tongan defence and only a series of 50-50 passes which went to ground restricted the Fijians to a 13-7 lead at half-time.

But the momentum changed in the second spell as the Tongan coach Kutusi Fieliea made wholesale changes to put fresh legs on the park and his side’s torrid forward gameplan began to wear down the Fijians.

“The first half was hard for us, but we kept fighting after half-time,” Latu said.

“It seemed like we were going to throw the towel in there for a while but we just dug deep and believed in ourselves and got the win.” Fiji scored first when Dan Rawaqa landed the first of his three penalties before Tonga came back against the run of play with the opening try of the match when hooker Ephraim Taukafa was driven over the line.

Pierre Hola’s conversion put the home side ahead 7-3 but it was a short-lived lead.

From the restart Hola’s clearing kick was charged down, allowing Saula Radidi in for the easiest of tries. Rawaqa landed the conversion and another penalty for Fiji to take a six-point advantage into the second half.

Tonga regained the lead early in the second spell with a penalty by Lilo Vungakoto and a try wide out by Seti Kiole, capping a rare backline move by the home team.

Another Rawaqa penalty put Fiji back in front 16-15 and they looked to have the game in hand until the Tongan forwards massed for a big finish resulting in pushover tries to Latu and Taioni.

Sapa-AFP –

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