The Australian Series of the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup came to an end on Monday as Samoa A proved too strong for the Junior Waratahs, Tonga A picked up a first win against QAS Reds Academy and Fiji Warriors surrendered their unbeaten record to the Brumby Runners.
The IRB Pacific Rugby Cup 2011 now moves on to New Zealand, where Fiji Warriors, Tonga A and Samoa A will each take on a Super Rugby development side from the Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes.
Samoa A and Fiji Warriors both accumulated nine points from the Australian Series to head the race to be crowned Pacific Rugby Cup 2011 champions, with Tonga A's win taking them to six.
The New Zealand Series gets underway on Friday with Tonga A facing the Chiefs Development XV, Samoa A taking on the Hurricanes Development XV and Fiji Warriors tackling the Crusader Knights.
Samoa A 35-12 Junior Waratahs
The Samoan tribal drums were beating loud and clear in Western Sydney on Monday evening as Samoa A out muscled the Junior Waratahs to run out 35-12 winners in the final match of the Australian leg of the Pacific Rugby Cup.
A subdued start by both teams meant that the scoreboard had only a penalty by Samoa A captain Roger Warren to show from the opening 15 minutes at St Mary’s League Club.
However, a yellow card for Samoa A flanker Misioka Timoteo saw the tempo change with the Junior Waratahs keen to capitalise on their man advantage and in the 20th minute they scored from a well worked rolling maul.
The Junior Waratahs were not finished there and from the ensuing kick-off, Josh Holmes saw no-one at home and kicked deep into the Samoan half with wing Ryan Shortland winning the foot race to dive on the ball in the corner and increase the lead to 12-3.
Nothing seemed to be working for the Samoans who, despite some powerful darting runs and countless raids into the Junior Waratahs half, ended up with the critical pass always going to ground.
They finally clicked in the 33rd minute when some passes stuck and Pelesiusa Faulau dived over after some tight work off the ruck. Warren added the conversion to send the Samoans in trailing only 12-10 at the break.
The match would prove to be a game of two halves with Samoa A returning with a spring in their step and keen to get back on terms with the Junior Waratahs.
It wasn’t long before the tide started to turn, and aided by a yellow card to Junior Waratahs Lapeti Timanai, Timoteo crashed over in the corner to put the visitors back in front with Warren’s conversion making it 18-12.
With their tails in the air Samoa A touched down again following a slick midfield break and slicing run from Fautua Otto, Warren adding the conversion and another penalty to push them out to 28-12 with 23 minutes to go.
The Junior Waratahs bravely fought back, pushing their way into their visitors’ half and throwing the ball wide in an attempt to gather momentum from which to cut through the Samoan line, only for the scrambling defence and keenness of Samoa A to protect their lead to halt their efforts.
Three minutes from time Samoa A, who had beaten QAS Reds Academy 23-20 in round two, clinched the try bonus point when they turned over the ball and Titi Esau kicked through for Morgan Salesa to score in the corner.
“I am very happy with the continued improvement of the team. We have only been together as a team for three games and things are starting to come off, and our game management was very good today. We are now looking forward to the games in New Zealand,” said Samoa A coach Selefuti Patu.
QAS Reds Academy 22-23 Tonga A
Tonga A broke through for their first win of the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup 2011 with a pulsating 23-22 win over the Queensland Reds Academy at Ballymore on Monday evening.
The Tongan team, which has steadily improved throughout this Australian Series, laid the foundation for their thrilling win with an outstanding first half of rugby.
Going into the break 15-5 up Tonga A clearly looked the better team, but the QAS Reds Academy, as they have done in every match of this IRB Pacific Rugby Cup campaign, launched an inspired second half comeback to come within a whisker of winning the match.
An early penalty had seen Tonga A open the scoring before a rampaging run by outside centre Charles Mateo saw him score under the posts, Edmond Paea adding the conversion to make it 10-0 after only 11 minutes.
QAS Reds Academy hit back six minutes later through centre Simon Morahan, but the Tongans reasserted their advantage just before the half hour mark when their impressive second row Samisoni Masima touched down.
Poor discipline and tired legs threatened to derail what was an impressive first half for the Tonga A team and the fast finishing Reds Academy backline sniffed an opportunity to claim their first win of the tournament.
Two penalties at the beginning of the second half by fly half Matt Brandon cut the deficit to 15-11 and when Tonga A replacement Chris Aho was sin-binned the signs looked ominous. However a stunning try by wing Mateo Malupo extended Tonga A’s lead to 20-11 with 20 minutes left.
The try appeared to sting the Reds Academy into action. Enjoying a wealth of territory and possession through their superior lineout, the hosts ground down Tonga A via a second Brandon penalty and try by wing Kimami Situati.
Brandon kicked his fourth penalty in the 75th minute to give the Reds Academy the lead for the first time in the match to the delight of the Queensland crowd. However, just two minutes later Paea regained the lead with a penalty of his own.
While Tonga A were left celebrating the win, for the Reds Academy it was another near miss, having also lost to the Fiji Warriors 27-26 and Samoa A 23-20 in the new-look Pacific Rugby Cup.
“I’m happy with the win. We dropped a lot of ball in the second half to make things difficult for us but a one-point win against a team like this is as good as a 40 point win” said Tonga national coach Isitolo Maka.
“New Zealand will be a tough tour, but we’re looking forward to it. This is such an important tournament in a World Cup year.”
Brumby Runners 30-28 Fiji Warriors
The Brumby Runners edged a tight tussle with Fiji Warriors to triumph 38-30 at Viking Park and finish top of the Australian Series table with an unbeaten record, condemning their visitors to a first loss in the process.
The Fijians did have the chance to snatch victory after the siren had sounded with a penalty from the halfway line, but the attempt fell agonisingly short to the relief of the Canberra crowd.
A penalty from Matt Toomua, a key member of the Australian Under 20 side that reached the IRB Junior World Championship final last year, two minutes from time therefore proved the difference in a match which saw the lead change several times.
Despite falling behind early after a penalty to Fijian fly half Taniela Maravunawasawasa, the Brumby Runners moved out to lead 17-3 courtesy of tries from Clint Sills and Andrew Smith.
However, a lapse in concentration by the ACT side let the Warriors back into the contest. Tries by wing Jona Tuitoga and flanker Aca Ratuva brought the Fijians to within touching distance before a 35-metre penalty by Maravunawasawasa after the half-time siren gave the visitors an 18-17 lead.
Number 8 Peter Kimlin worked hard in both attack and defence, using his massive frame to remove Fijian defenders from the ruck on a number of occasions. The former Wallaby’s physicality proved the difference for the Runners early in the second half, when constant pressure resulted in tries for prop Jono Owen and centre Sam Carter.
But with Kimlin being rested and 25 minutes to go, the Fiji Warriors again pulled themselves back in to the game through a Maravunawasawasa drop goal and Paula Karatu try, but it was to no avail as the Brumby Runners clung to the most slender of leads.