The Fiji Warriors created history in Suva today by becoming the first team to successfully defend the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup.
In a tense all-Fijian final of excellent quality the Warriors had to come from behind to see off the Fiji Barbarians 26-17.
Trailing 17-6 with just 20 minutes to go, it seemed as though the Warriors would fail in their quest against a Barbarians side that had won their earlier pool phase match.
However, boosted by a monumental forward effort in front of a packed National Stadium, the Warriors burst back into the match with two tries inside the final 10 minutes to seal victory.
Having clawed their way back through two Taniela Rawaqa penalties, the defining moment for the Warriors came when an attacking scrum deep inside Barbarians territory led to a try for Rawaqa, who converted to give his side the lead with time running out.
A second try through replacement Paula Karuta in the final minute of the match ensured that the Warriors became the first team in the five-year history of the tournament to successfully defend their title.
"After having eight players drafted into the Flying Fijians I told the boys they really had to play their hearts out today. I told them that this was the stepping stone to the PNC and the Wallabies tour. They really played well today and I am very proud of them," said Warriors coach, Inoke Male.
"Losing to the Barbarians in the first round was a big motivation for us. We were coming back from a good win against the Reds. I think our composure and our control won us the game today. All the boys really played their part and it was a team effort."
Despite opening the scoring through a Rawaqa penalty, the Warriors could not get a foothold in the first half and it was the Barbarians who scored the opening try through wing William Saukuru.
Rawaqa added a second penalty to keep the champions in contention, 7-6 down at the interval, but after the break the Barbarians stretched ahead once again through full back Jaoji Dakuvula's penalty and seemingly the Barbarians were on course for a second title.
However, the comeback began and Rawaka set the platform for a historic victory that will give Fijian Rugby a big boost ahead of the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup, which gets underway in Samoa on 12 June.
Funded through the IRB's £48 million strategic investment programme, the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup has played a major part in completing the player and coach development pathway from club to test level for the three Pacific Island Unions.
Combined with the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup, the tournament has played an instrumental role in raising competitiveness of the Fiji, Samoa and Tonga test teams over the past five years.
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