Fiji Warriors completed a hat-trick of victories on the New Zealand leg of the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup by claiming the scalp of the Chiefs Development XV.
There were some nervous moments for the Fijians before they emerged 35-34 winners to consolidate their place at the top of the table, with the Highlanders and Hurricanes Development joining them as sixth round winners.
Since losing their opening PRC encounter, against Queensland A, Fiji Warriors have racked up five wins on the trot – and, importantly, on the road, giving the holders valuable points for the Pacific Islands leg in October.
With the Chiefs coming off a resounding Round 5 win over Samoa A, the game had all the ingredients for a thriller – and so it proved. The setting was perfect, too – the Waitete club in Te Kuiti, the home of All Black great Sir Colin Meads, who was at the match.
It was the Chiefs A who made the early running, racing to a 12-point lead in as many minutes through winger Ahsee Tuala - fly half Baden Kerr converting from the sideline - and openside flanker Rory Grice.
Fiji Warriors responded with a try to winger Ratu Alipate Ratini, fly half Jonetani Ralulu converting.
Two more tries followed in quick succession for prop Isireli Temo - rewarded for his support after a 60-metre attack - and full back Simeli Koniferedi and Ralulu’s extras put Fiji into a 21-12 lead.
The momentum swung back as a try by Chiefs captain and scrum-half Jamie Nutbrown – converted by Kerr – brought them within two points but a converted try by lock Maikeli Naromaitoga sent Fiji Warriors into half time 28-19 up.
With a Kerr penalty after the break putting the Chiefs back within a score at 28-22, Ratini’s second try – and Ralulu’s conversion – gave Fiji a crucial 35-22 buffer going into the last quarter.
The Chiefs came storming back with a try to Dominique Waqaniborutu, a Fijian 2011 Rugby World Cup squad member, but the failed conversion attempt proved crucial. Chiefs centre Doug Edwards crossed at the death, which Kerr converted on the final whistle.
Highlanders outclass Tonga A
Four tries from right wing Marshall Suckling helped the Highlanders Development XV to a 62-8 victory over Tonga A in Dunedin on Monday.
The first half gave little indication of the scoring that was to follow, the Highlanders notching a try from full back Kurt Baker just before the break to go in 13-3 ahead. The other points came from the boot of fly half Hayden Parker.
Tonga, with one first-half penalty from fly-half Mataiasi Aholelei on the board, began the try-scoring after the break when winger Mohetau Kolotau pulled the score back to 13-8 but thereafter it was all the Highlanders.
The home side opened up to finish with eight tries, which were all converted by Parker and, when he went off, Peter Breen.
Aside from Suckling’s quartet, the other second-half tries were shared by scrum-half Brad Weber, his replacement Johnny Legg and winger Matt Faddes.
Hurricanes defeat Samoa A
In the last match of the round, and thus completing the New Zealand leg of the PRC, the Hurricanes Development XV overturned a half-time deficit to beat Samoa A 29-16 at Porirua Park on Monday evening.
The kicking of Titi Jr Esau and a try by centre Meki Magele put Tonga 16-12 ahead at the break, though the Highlanders had crossed for two tries through winger Parataiso Silafai-Leaana and fly half James Marshall.
The second half belonged to the Hurricanes as they racked up 17 unanswered points, with two tries to prop Tristan Moran and one for replacement back rower Dan Turner, Marshall adding two conversions during the match.