Fiji Warriors celebrated their successful IRB Pacific Rugby Cup defence with a last-gasp 42-34 win over Samoa A on Monday.
The match went down to the wire, with Fiji trailing by two points until 10 points in the last two minutes saw them home, flanker Inoke Tuisese completing his hat-trick.
Fiji had already been crowned PRC champions thanks to Tonga A’s win over their Samoan counterparts on Thursday.
The Samoans had needed maximum points from that match to maintain an outside chance of catching Fiji; defeat for Samoa A confirmed the Fijians’ title.
That left the Samoans playing only for pride at Nuku’alofa on Monday, and they made all the early running against the Fiji Warriors by racing to a 22-5 half-time lead.
Samoa A captain Reupena Levasa opened the scoring with a fourth-minute try and full-back Titi Esau added the extras to give them a perfect start.
Although Esau’s kicking radar was a little off-target, he kept the scoreboard ticking over as centre Faialaga Afamasaga and flanker Oneone Faafou Soisoi went over for tries.
It was Fiji’s first appearance in this leg of the PRC, with the Australian and New Zealand segments having been completed earlier in the year, and their only half-time points came from a try by hooker Isireli Ledua.
But after the break Fiji Warriors began to rediscover the scoring touch that has won them this title for the fourth successive time, storming back into the contest with a try by number 8 Nemani Nagusa.
Jiuta Lutumailagi slotted the conversion and scrum half Henry Seniloli dropped a goal to bring the champions back into contention at 22-15.
But with the Fijians now within a score, Esau again stepped up with a couple of successful kicks to nudge Samoa ahead 28-15.
The Fijians hit back in the 55th minute with Tuisese’s first try, who followed up with a second seven minutes later. With Jovesa Kunawave and then Kolinio Vunaki adding conversions, Fiji were in front for the first time in the match at 29-28.
That lead was short-lived as Afamasaga, who had taken over the kicking duties after Esau left the field, restored Samoa’s ascendancy. He and Vunaki then traded penalties to leave Samoa A leading 34-32 with just four minutes remaining.
Vunaki’s 78th-minute penalty put Fiji in front by a whisker before Tuisese crossed for his third try. Vunaki’s conversion completed a nail-biting encounter.
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