Defending IRB Pacific Rugby Cup champions Fiji Warriors left it late to snatch victory over the QAS Reds Academy as the Junior Waratahs and Brumby Runners also tasted victory on the opening weekend of the new-look competition.
Played outside of the Pacific Islands for the first time in its history, the 2011 competition sees the A teams of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga tackle up and coming Super Rugby talent in both Australia and New Zealand before a round robin in Fiji in March.
QAS Reds Academy 26-27 Fiji Warriors
Fiji Warriors full back Taniela Maravunawasawasa held his nerve at the death to kick the penalty and snatch a 27-26 victory over the QAS Reds Academy at Ballymore on Saturday evening.
A defiant late comeback by the hosts had seemingly been enough to clinch victory after Easts Premier Rugby fly half Matt Brandon kicked a penalty in the 79th minute to edge them ahead 26-24. However, a mistake from the kick-off gave Maravunawasawasa the chance to snatch victory for the defending Pacific Rugby Cup champions from a thrilling encounter.
The QAS Reds Academy had made the better start in the hot and humid conditions at Ballymore with tries from flanker Lei Tomiki and scrum half Ian Prior helping the hosts establish a 13-7 lead after 22 minutes.
Prop Setefano Samoca had already crossed for a large and well-drilled Fijian squad, but another try by his front row colleague Viliame Veikoso ensured the visitors went in with a slender 14-13 advantage at half time.
By the hour mark the Warriors lead had grown to 24-13 with a Maravunawasawasa penalty and conversion to captain Rupeni Nasiga’s try. However, the QAS Reds Academy weren’t finished with a deft grubber kick allowing full back Luke Morahan to kick-start the comeback that would ultimately come up just short.
The hosts were made up of select St George Reds, members of the QAR Reds Academy and Wider Training Squad and standouts from the Premier Rugby competition.
Their starting line-up included many players who had stared for Australia’s Under 20s at last year’s IRB Junior World Championship, including captain Jake Schatz, flanker Liam Gill, wings Dominic Shipperley and Kimami Situati and try-scorer Morahan.
Eighteen-year-old Gill was outstanding with another high energy game in defence and at the breakdown, where he produced many crucial turnovers at pivotal moments, while centre Jono Lance also looked dangerous in attack and second row David McDuling constantly got the hosts over the advantage line with some powerful runs.
Junior Waratahs 28-18 Tonga A
The Junior Waratahs kicked off their IRB Pacific Rugby Cup campaign with a strong 28-18 win over a determined Tonga A side at Forshaw Rugby Park on Saturday.
The Junior Tahs were held scoreless in the first half, having to withstand some of Tonga's patented big hits, with two penalties from fly half Daniel Morath sending the visitors in with a 6-0 lead at the interval. However four converted tries in a row ensured victory for the Australian outfit.
Tonga A started forcefully, using their large forwards to set up numerous attacks, but were denied a first half try by the home side’s stout, and sometimes desperate, defence.
Second row Pat O'Connor's desperation saw him sin-binned in the 28th minute for repeated infringements at the breakdown, yet the Tongans were unable to capitalise fully on the subsequent man advantage.
Unlike their opponents, the Junior Waratahs took full advantage of the sin-binning of Tonga A prop Ofa Fainga'anuku in the minutes running up to half time, taking the lead within five minutes of the restart courtesy of a deceptive run from flanker Maile Latukefu.
Constant pressure from the Junior Waratahs saw more points come their way, with wing John Grant and centre Bernard Foley also crossing for tries over the next 20 minutes. Latukefu's second try in the 73rd minute, converted by centre Bernard Foley, took the lead out to 22-6.
Tonga A weren't finished though, flanker Paula Kaho barging over three minutes from the end, with the conversion coming from replacement Edmond Pea, who then scored a second try for the visitors on the final hooter.
Brumby Runners vs Samoa A
The Brumby Runners also had to withstand a late charge from their opponents Samoa A to triumph 29-13 in the curtain raiser to the Brumbies Super Rugby encounter with the Chiefs at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
The hosts came out of the blocks quickly with big names like Peter Kimlin, Tyrone Smith and Michael Hooper making ground over the advantage line from the outset.
It wasn’t long after the kick-off that Smith – the younger brother of former Wallaby captain George – scored the first try following some quick ball from the Brumby Runners inside backs.
While the Samoans were happy to play physical rugby through the forwards, the Brumby Runners capitaised on space towards the flanks, making several quick breaks through Jackson Selby and Jesse Mogg.
Eventually the Brumby Runners were able to inflict enough pressure to cross the line for two tries through forwards Liam Winton and Anthony Hegarty which captain Nic White converted.
A single penalty to veteran Roger Warren kept the Samoans in with a sniff, but going in at half time with a commanding 19-3 lead left the Brumby Runners in a strong position to control the match.
The Samoans fielded an uncharacteristically small pack for their opening Pacific Rugby Cup hit out, with their front row being monstered in height and weight by their hosts.
With the Canberra summer sun bearing down on the rain wet pitch, humidity was high, resulting in a slippery and greasy ball. This resulted in several handling errors by both teams at the start of the second half, with Samoa A working hard in the scrum but coming up short against the likes of Jono Owen, Hegarty and JP Predaud.
However, the Samoans stabilised their scrum to mount some pressure, resulting in their first try to Pelesiusi Faulau, which was converted by Warren to bring the score back to 19-10.
Another penalty to Warren cut the deficit even further, but the Samoan revival was short lived as Kimlin and replacement Vili Iongi crossed to push the final score out to 29-13.
The IRB Pacific Rugby Cup 2011 continues on Wednesday, 23 February, with the second leg of the Australia Series when the Junior Waratahs face the Fiji Warriors, QAS Reds Academy tackle Samoa A and the Brumby Runners meet Tonga A.
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