Samoa A made the perfect start to the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup 2012 with a 30-24 victory over the Brumby Runners at Canberra Stadium on Friday, handing the Australian side their first defeat in the competition.
The Samoans, who saw the 2011 title slip through their grasps after losing to both Fiji Warriors and Tonga A in the Pacific series, avenged a loss to the same side in the opening round of the new-look competition last year.
The Brumby Runners took the lead with a second penalty but Meki Magele's try and the boots of Patrick Fa'apale and Titi Jnr Esau gave Samoa A a 19-3 lead at half-time. The home side cut that to 22-17 with tries from Dylan Sigg and Tom Cox, but Misioka Timoteo's reasserted the Samoan advantage.
Esau's fifth penalty of the evening left the Brumby Runners needing two converted tries to preserve their unbeaten record in the competition, but Ryne Bowden's try in the final minute came too late for any thoughts of a comeback.
“The boys played their hearts out and the last two warm-up games gave us an excellent opportunity and final assessment of our players,” said coach Fepuleai Selefuti Patu.
“We are not going to dwell on with the win, we have just started and we would like to keep on with the momentum for the remaining matches.”
Samoa A were the only Pacific Island side to taste victory on the opening weekend after an impressive fight back from Queensland A saw them defeat defending champions Fiji Warriors 36-24 in Brisbane while the Junior Waratahs beat Tonga A 27-11 in Sydney.
Mitchell Felsman was the hero for Queensland A, the wing scoring three of his side’s four tries as they recovered from 24-18 down going into the final quarter to deny their visitors to Ballymore.
Fiji Warriors had battled bravely to push their way back into the encounter after trailing 18-6 as half-time approached, only for Felsman to hit top gear and fly half Dallan Murphy put the game beyond doubt with two penalties.
Felsman was not the hosts’ only standout player, Queensland Reds wing Chris F’Sautia’s speed and strength caused problems for the Fijians, Nick Frisby’s up-tempo game kept his side on the front foot and captain Eddie Quirk was a menace at the breakdown.
“It’s a credit to the team to see them produce what they did tonight on very little preparation. We only had one training session together and our captain’s run got rained out so it was a really huge effort,” Quirk said.
A great concept
“The guys showed that they are just naturally talented football players, but we’ve now got a bit more time together so we’re excited by what’s ahead with games against Samoa and Tonga. The guys really stepped up and we were forced to adapt. It’s always hard to play the Fijians, they throw it around and it’s a different style of game.
“The Pacific Rugby Cup is also a great concept and it gives the young guys in the Academy an opportunity to be seen to reach their future ambitions. It’s also good for the Islander teams. It’s good to see them come to Australia and get a lot out of it. The Australians play a different style of footy to what they are used to so it’s a good test for them and a good test for us.”
The Warriors did show glimpses of dominance at stages and led 24-18 midway through the second half, giving captain Apakuki Vuaviri cause for optimism as the Australian series continues and the Islanders then move on to New Zealand for the second series.
“I thought the boys were great today but I think we can be a little better in defence and with our communication,” admitted Vuaviri. “The PRC will help us a lot as we’re coming up against a lot of competitive teams.”
Despite Fiji shooting out to a 3-0 lead it was Queensland A that enjoyed the majority of early attacking opportunities with scrum half Frisby and Felsman both crossing for tries in the opening 20 minutes. Fiji Warriors hit back on the stroke of half-time to bring the deficit back within a converted try as full back Metuisela Talebula showed some great individual skills to score a breakaway try.
Junior Waratahs too strong
That deficit disappeared 10 minutes into the second half when Fiji second row Iliesa Ratuva crashed over from close range to level the scores before Talebula gave the Warriors the lead again two drop goals in front of the sticks.
Tonga A also staged a mini revival just before the hour mark with a penalty by fly half Mattaaisi Aholelei and try from powerful number 8 Lotu Filipine cutting the deficit to 20-11, but any hopes of a comeback were halted by Junior Waratahs captain Tevita Metuisla’s try.
Grayson Hart, the nephew of former All Blacks coach John Hart, gave the Junior Waratahs the lead at Foreshaw Rugby Park with a penalty before Aholelei levelled it a 3-3. Tries by full back Trent Lake and second row Greg Peterson pulled the hosts out to 13-3 at the break.
The Junior Waratahs could have been further ahead as Hart missed with a penalty and two conversions, but with a strong set piece and well-structured and disciplined performance their advantage grew within minutes of the restart when wing Jesse Leota touched down.
The Pacific Rugby Cup continues on Wednesday when Fiji Warriors tackle the Brumby Runners, before the following day Samoa A face the Junior Waratahs and Queensland A welcome Tonga A to Ballymore.