Fiji Warriors have sealed their fourth successive IRB Pacific Rugby Cup title after Tonga A ended Samoa A’s slim hopes of catching them with a 20-18 win in Nuku’alofa on Thursday.
The Samoans needed a bonus-point victory to keep the heat on the defending champions when the tournament resumed with the concluding Pacific Island Series this week.
But Tonga rewrote the form book to post a narrow win – their first victory of this year’s competition after enduring five defeats with their other match designated a draw after inclement weather forced its cancellation.
The trans-Tasman legs of the PRC, which pits the A teams of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji against Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby development sides, were completed earlier in the year.
After a seven-month hiatus, action recommenced with the Warriors 10 points clear at the top of the table thanks to their impressive showing in Australia and New Zealand earlier in the year.
A day for the kickers
They have lost only one match – the opener, against Queensland A, after which they registered five wins on the bounce, including an undefeated sweep through New Zealand.
Although Samoa A needed to score tries if they were to have any hope of catching Fiji Warriors, Thursday’s match belonged to the kickers.
Samoa full back Titi Esau and his opposite number Setaleki Lu’au contributed all but five of the points scored in the match.
The Samoans, coached by Brian Lima, veteran of five Rugby World Cups as a player, led 12-3 at half time after Esau kicked four penalties, with Lu’au putting the Tongans on the scoreboard.
Esau extended the lead to 15-3 after the break but the home side were undaunted and kept chipping away at the lead at the Teufaiva Stadium.
Watched by a crowd of 2,900, Lu’au brought his side back into contention with three penalties but once again Esau gave his side breathing space, making it 18-12 going into the final quarter.
But in the 65th minute Tonga’s number 8 Lotu Filipine, who played at Rugby World Cup 2007, scored the game’s only try to put his side within one point – but Lu’au’s failed conversion attempt set up a nail-biting finale.
As Tonga pressed for the winning score, fly half Sepuloni Makaafi missed a drop goal attempt and Lu’au was unsuccessful with a penalty.
However, Lu’au, with almost the last roll of the dice, slotted the decisive penalty in the 78th minute.
The Fiji Warriors feature in the last two matches of PRC 2012 at the same venue, facing Samoa A on Monday and then Tonga A four days later.