18 June, 2018, 5:09 pm
SUVA (WORLD RUGBY) – Fiji wrapped up their fourth consecutive World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup title and their fifth in total after coming from behind to defeat Georgia 37-15 in the all-important match at the ANZ Stadium in Suva on Saturday.
Having failed to pick up any bonus points from the game Georgia had to settle for a third-place finish with Tonga taking the runners-up spot thanks to their 28-18 win over Samoa.
The top two nations will now play each other outside of the competition, at the same venue next Saturday, as the build-up to Rugby World Cup 2019 continues apace. Georgia, meanwhile, will get an early taste of Japan ahead of their participation at the first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia with a test against the Brave Blossoms in Aichi.
Samoa’s immediate task is to confirm their place at Japan 2019 with home-and-away games against the European play-off winner – Germany or Portugal, on 30 June and 14 July, deciding which route they take. Win and the Islanders will go forward to Pool A as the Play-Off Winner, lose and they face a four-way battle to secure the final ticket at the global repechage tournament in November.
Fiji 37-15 Georgia
Scrum-half Henry Seniloli scored two first-half tries and his 64th-minute replacement Frank Lomani added a brace late on as Fiji overturned a five-point half-time deficit to beat RWC 2019 Pool D opponents Georgia 37-15 and successfully defend the Pacific Nations Cup.
Playing at a high tempo, Fiji looked a constant threat from the off and after falling behind to Soso Matiashvili’s early penalty, Seniloli struck twice in the space of three minutes. For his first, the scrum-half pounced on the loose ball after it squirted out from a five-metre scrum following a superb shove from the Fijian pack, while the second came from good work by the backs, debutant Semi Radradra putting his team-mate away with an inside pass after the Lelos were left short of numbers in defence.
Neither try was converted and Georgia started to work their way back into the contest as errors crept into Fiji’s play. On the stroke of half-time, the Lelos went in front after the forwards made good ground down the middle and Lasha Khmaladze threw a long miss-pass that bypassed Vereniki Goneva and found Alexander Todua unmarked wide on the left.
Georgia could not sustain their effort after the break, however, and the second half firmly belonged to Fiji who entertained the crowd with their offloading game with the likes of Leone Nakarawa, Radradra and Goneva looking dangerous every time they touched the ball.
Jale Vatubua started the run of 27 unanswered points in the 50th minute when he ran a hard line and took a short pass from Seniloli after another sold scrum from the Fijian pack. Nemani Nadolo kicked the penalty and added a 55th-minute penalty to hand the reigning champions a 20-15 lead.
Lomani got in on the act to score twice, the second coming in the 79th minute, but there was still just enough time for Radradra to touch down in stoppage time from a few metres out and cap a fine test debut.
Fiji captain Akapusi Qera said: “Georgia came out strong in the first half and we just want to thank the Lord Almighty for giving us the strength and the spirit of unity and love that we can fight again in the second half and manage to win the game. It was a tough game so hats off to the boys. That is the level we need to play every game but the Georgia team will be a different team when we play them again in 2019.”
Tonga 28-18 Samoa
Debutant Viliame Lolohea made a dream start to his international career as Tonga overcame Samoa despite finishing the game with 13 men.
The ‘Ikale Tahi lost three men to the sin-bin in total in an ill-disciplined final quarter but they had the luxury of a 22-point cushion and Samoa were left with too much to do.
Lolohea only had to wait six minutes before getting his maiden test try, collecting Kurt Morath’s well-placed cross-field chip kick after Ah See Tuala shot up too quickly in defence. Sonetane Takalua added the conversion and went on to kick 13 points to cap a fine display at scrum-half.
Tuala chipped into the lead with a penalty on 13 minutes but Tonga continued to dominate possession and it wasn’t long before they had their second try after some quick thinking from winger Cooper Vuna saw the former NRL player take a quick tap penalty and power over from a few metres out.
Tonga’s new-look front-row was giving experienced half-backs Takalua and Morath a much better platform to work from and a powerful shove from the pack earned them a scrum penalty, Takalua stroking the ball over to cancel out Tuala’s second penalty and take Tonga into a 17-6 half-time lead.
Two more Takalua penalties saw Tonga stretch out further in front and they were virtually out of sight when Penikolo Latu scored a fine individual try approaching the hour mark after following up Takalua’s magnificent hanging box-kick. Tuala fielded the ball cleanly but was tackled ‘man and ball’ on his own 10-metre line by Latu, who got to his feet immediately and turned over possession before racing away to score.
As Tonga’s penalty count reached double figures, their frustration started to grow and replacement hooker Sosefo Sakalia was the first to see yellow for going in at the side to stop an advancing driving maul on 68 minutes. Samoa piled forward with a series of pick-and-goes but Jack Lam lost control of the ball as he reached out for the line. The danger had only passed momentarily, though, the Samoans capitalising on the extra space to work a try for Ed Fidow in his second test.
Paula Ngauamo, who had to come back on for Sakalia, was then sin-binned in the final minute for a no-arms tackle before Sitiveni Mafi joined him on the sidelines deep into stoppage time, allowing Samoa’s Melani Matavao to cross in the final play.
Tonga captain Sione Piutau said: “We always knew it was going to be a tough match, these Pacific encounters are always physical up front, and I guess you saw that with the big hits. Discipline-wise we let ourselves down near the end but we’re happy with the win. There are a lot of improvements we can make but we are heading in the right direction.”.