The New Zealand leg of the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup drew to a close on Monday with Samoa A boosting their chances of claiming the title with a tight 18-17 victory over the Chiefs Development team in Pukekohe.
The Samoans, who suffered a heartbreaking 22-21 loss to the Crusader Knights last time out, are the only Pacific Island side to win on New Zealand soil after Fiji Warriors lost 27-13 to the Hurricanes Development side and Tonga A fell 36-18 to the Knights.
Samoa A now sit five points clear of Fiji Warriors on 14 in the race to be crowned champions of the new-look Pacific Rugby Cup, with Tonga A third with six points.
The three Island teams now return to Fiji for the climax of the 2011 competition with a round robin, beginning on Saturday when the Fiji Warriors tackle Tonga A at Churchill Park in Lautoka.
CHIEFS DEVELOPMENT 17-18 SAMOA A
Samoa A survived a late scare to edge the Chiefs Development team 18-17 at Growers Stadium in Pukekohe, becoming the only Pacific Island team to win in the New Zealand leg of the revamped competition.
Nerves must have been jangling when the home side were awarded a penalty at the death, especially after seeing victory slip from their grasp against the Crusader Knights in this fashion five days earlier. However, this time, Trent Renata was unable to do what Tom Marshall had done and bisect the posts to snatch victory.
Samoa A opened the scoring with two penalties from captain Roger Warren inside six minutes, but two tries in four minutes saw the Chiefs Development team turn the match in their favour. Samoan international hooker Simon Lemalu scored the first against his compatriots, before a good break by Ahsee Tuala allowed wing Rey Lee-Lo to touch down.
Full back Titi Esau kept the visitors in touch with a long range penalty as indiscipline began to prove costly for the Chiefs Development side. The hosts should have increased their advantage before half time, but centre Save Tokula dropped the ball in front of the try-line.
Samoa A began the second half just as they had the first, punishing more indiscipline from the Chiefs Development team with penalties from Warren and Esau edging them into a 15-14 lead. Renata regained the lead but once again another indiscretion allowed Warren to kick Samoa A back into the lead.
Both sides created try-scoring opportunities but in the end it was missed kicks which proved costly, Warren missing one he would have regretted had his opposite number Renata not missed two attempts of his own in the final 10 minutes.
“We didn’t start as well as we wanted to, but we held out to the end and are happy with the win,” insisted Warren afterwards.
CRUSADER KNIGHTS 36-18 TONGA A
Johnny McNicholl scored two of the Crusader Knights’ three second half tries as they pulled away from a spirited Tonga A side at Lincoln University to make it three wins from three in the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup 2011.
The two sides had been separated by just three points – 18-15 – after Finau Makoni’s try for the visitors in the 45th minute, but scrum half Willi Heinz touched down within minutes before McNicholl made certain of the win with his brace.
The Knights had begun the game with a couple of Crusaders’ regulars in the starting line-up with Zac Guildford and Ryan Crotty on the comeback after injury, but it was Tonga A who opened the scoring with wing Otulea Katoa’s fifth minute try.
Tonga A’s lead lasted only minutes though when flanker Mark Abbott touched down, and although the visitors went in front again through Edmond Paea’s penalty the sides were again all-square following captain Tom Taylor’s 20th minute kick.
The Crusader Knights scored either side of half time through full back Tom Marshall and flanker Brendon O’Connor to seemingly swing the match in their favour, only for Daniel Morath’s conversion of Makoni’s try to cut the deficit to three points with 35 minutes remaining.
HURRICANES DEVELOPMENT 27-13 FIJI WARRIORS
Fiji Warriors fought back bravely in the early stage of the second half only to see the Hurricanes Development team secure a 27-13 victory at Poirura Park, leaving them five points behind rivals Samoa A in the race for the Pacific Rugby Cup title.
Tries from number 8 Dean Brunsdon and fly half Beauden Barrett saw the Hurricanes Development team establish a 12-0 lead before Fiji Warriors finally got on the scoreboard with Taniela Maravunawasawasa’s penalty just before the half hour mark.
The Hurricanes Development side quickly re-established their advantage when hooker Motu Matu’u touched down to send the hosts in with a 19-3 lead and seemingly on course for another convincing victory in the competition.
However, following a raft of changes at half time, the Warriors fought back into the match with number 8 Dominiko Waqanibuotu scoring his side’s first try and Maravunawasawasa adding the conversion and a penalty to cut the deficit to six points with 26 minutes remaining.
There was to be no fairytale comeback though with second row Api Naikatini touching down before Barrett kicked another penalty to secure victory. However Fiji national coach Samu Domoni was still able to see positives from the New Zealand leg of the competition.
"The rugby is great and the tournament is a good concept,” he admitted. “The team are looking forward to returning to Fiji tomorrow for the final round playing Samoa A and Tonga A, which will be hard games."
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