Fiji Warriors kept alive their chances of retaining the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup with a hard fought 21-14 win over Tonga A at Churchill Park in Lautoka, Fiji.
The Warriors now lie just one point behind Samoa A in the standings, with the two teams facing each other on Tuesday. Samoa A then finish their campaign against Tonga A on 26 March.
The first match in the Pacific Islands phase of the new-look IRB Pacific Rugby Cup, watched by a crowd of 1,451, was dominated by the boots of Warriors full back Taniela Rawaqa and Tonga A scrum half Daniel Morath.
Morath opened the scoring in the first minute of play with a well-struck penalty. Rawaqa soon canceled out that score with his first penalty in the seventh minute.
The Warriors forwards had the best of the early confrontations with prop Waisake Naulago and flanker Jimilai Naikadawa both outstanding. But for all the Warriors forward momentum penalty indiscretions continued to haunt the hosts as two further Morath penalties took the visitors out to a 3-9 lead with the game 28 minutes old.
Although Rawaqa’s decision-making was not at its best in open play, his boot proved his saving grace, kicking four successive penalties in the space of 13 minutes to take the Warriors into the break 15-9 to the good.
In the second half the Warriors came out with real intent, but with flanker Tevita Cavubati lurking in the backs he failed to realise the overlap created by wing Jona Tuitoga on his outside as he cut back and lost the momentum.
A minute later, in the 46th minute, Isoa Neivua bulldozed his way through the middle of the Tongan defence only to lose the ball forward with the goal line beckoning.
With his side struggling, Tonga coach Isitolo Maka brought on veteran scrum half Soane Havea, and his impact on the game was immediate. A neat chip into the Warriors 22 gave Rawaqa little choice but to kick the ball straight into touch.
From the ensuing lineout Havea dissected the Warriors defence and scampered through untouched to score the only try of the game. The conversion was missed by full back Edmond Paea and the Tongans remained adrift 15-14.
But just as it looked as if the Tongans had wrestled the ascendancy from their hosts, indiscipline let them down and the Warriors eventually eased away with two late penalties to Rawaqa and Jonetani Ralulu respectively.
Samoa A still lead the overall competition by one point from the Warriors. Samoa A face the Warriors at Lawaqa Park in Sigatoka on Tuesday, before taking on Tonga A in the final game of the tournament on 26 March.
1.Waisea Naulago, 2.Viliame Veikoso (C), 3.Ratu Penijamini Makutu, 4.Sokonaia Kalou, 5.Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 6.Tevita Cavubati, 7.Jimilai Naikadawa, 8.Kelevi Ketedromo, 9.Nemia Ranuku, 10.Ratu Taniela Maravunawasawasa, 11.Jona Tuitoga, 12.Ravai Fatiaki, 13.Adriu Delai, 14.Isoa Coalala, 15.Apisalome Waqatabu.
Reserves: 16.George Ma’afum 17.Ratu Manasa Romumu, 18.Ratu Aca Ratuva, 19.Malakai Volau, 20.Waisale Vatuvoka, 21.Jonetani Ralulu, 22.Epeli Nayaravoro
1. Ofa Faingaanuku 2. Atonio Halangahu 3. Sila Puafisi 4. Alfred Pinomi 5. Samisoni Masima 6.Tevita Ula 7. Ofa Finau 8. Paula Kaho 9. Daniel Morath 10. Tomasi Palu 11. Otulea Katoa 12. Damien Fakafanua 13. Charles Mateo 14. Ratu Maafu 15. Edmond Paea.
Reserves: 16. Viliami Pola 17. Makoni Finau 18. Feauhelotu Aho 19. Josephn Kolokihakaufisi 20. Soane Havea 21. Viliami Hakalo 22. Soane Sinisa
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