The IRB Pacific Rugby Cup trophy had a familiar name engraved on it in 2012 after the Fiji Warriors won the title for the fourth successive year, being crowned champions without even taking to the Teufaiva Stadium pitch after Tonga A beat Samoa A 20-18 in the first match of the concluding Pacific Island Series on 11 October.
Fiji Warriors had travelled to the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa needing just one point from their final two matches to retain the title after winning an impressive five from six against Super Rugby Academy sides in Australia and New Zealand in February and March.
With Samoa A’s defeat, they didn’t even need that and they could complete the competition without the pressure to secure the title. This they duly did, scoring 10 points in the last two minutes to beat Samoa A 42-34 and then edging past Tonga A 25-16 in the final match despite the presence of King Tupou VI inspiring the home side.
This was in stark contrast to last year when the Warriors had been the ones hunting down table-toppers Samoa A in the final series. Ironically it was also a Tongan victory over Samoa A that confirmed the Warriors as 2011 champions after they had beaten both sides in the battle of the core teams in the new-look competition.
This victory on home soil was the first in 2012 for Tonga A, who had lost all five matches played earlier in the year, their only points coming as a result of their match with the Brumby Runners being declared a 0-0 draw after inclement weather forced its cancellation.
The Warriors, though, were undoubtedly worthy winners having bounced back from an opening 36-24 loss to Queensland A in late February to win seven matches in a row – two in Australia, three in New Zealand and two in Tonga – in the key development competition, much to the delight of Sale Sorovaki who was in charge for the concluding series.
“I was happy that we won the game and finished the Pacific leg undefeated,” said Sorovaki. “It is a relatively inexperienced team with quite a few changes from the team that toured Australia and New Zealand so it was a good test of the depth of our Academy programme.”
This unbeaten run was all the more impressive given the fact that New Zealand teams won eight of nine matches in that phase of the competition in 2011, often by big margins, and PRC 2012 would feature all five of the country’s Super Rugby franchise development teams with the Blues and Highlanders entering the fray.
The Warriors had lost all three of their matches in New Zealand in 2011, but full of confidence after their performances in Australia this time they went unbeaten to storm to the top of the Pacific Rugby Cup standings, the only one of the core teams to win a match in the second of two series that make up the competition.
Three points had separated Samoa A and the Warriors in the standings after the Australian Series, but the sides had swapped places after one round in New Zealand with the defending champions edging the Crusader Knights 17-13 in Christchurch and their rivals losing 71-17 to the Chiefs Development XV in Pukekohe.
The Fijians had to survive a nervy last 20 minutes at Rugby Park to hang on to beat the Crusader Knights, their defence standing firm amid intense pressure. The Samoans, meanwhile, were caught out by the intensity of the Chiefs Development XV, a team they had edged 18-17 a year earlier. This time Samoa A conceded 11 tries with prop Heroshi Tea admitting afterwards they “were not expecting the high intensity from the development teams but it was a good experience for the boys to play at this level.”
Tonga A suffered a third defeat of the competition, 40-3 at the hands of the Blues Development XV on their tournament debut, a side the Fijian Warriors would edge 16-14 a few days later to pull further ahead in the standings.
The Blues Development XV had Tony Woodcock in their ranks, playing his first match since his try-scoring exploits in the Rugby World Cup 2011 Final, but they were unable to halt the Fijians’ winning streak with Jonetani Ralulu’s penalty proving the match-winner.
Samoa A and Tonga A both suffered second defeats in round five against the Highlanders Development XV (39-27) and Crusader Knights (58-6) respectively, the latter team fielding a number of players with Super Rugby experience.
The final round of matches in New Zealand saw the Warriors scrape a win by an even smaller margin, beating the Chiefs Development XV 35-34 in a thrilling encounter witnessed by All Black legend Colin Meads, who was in attendance at his Waitete club in Te Kuiti. Once again, the Warriors had to survive a tense last quarter as their hosts battled back from 35-22 down with one of their try scorers being Dominiko Waqaniburotu, who had played for Fiji at RWC 2011.
There was no such success for Tonga A, who suffered a 62-8 mauling at the hands of the Highlanders Development XV with Marshall Suckling scoring four tries, or Samoa A after they saw haw a half-time lead turn into a 29-12 loss against the Hurricanes Development XV to leave them with an almost impossible task of denying the Warriors another title.
When the tournament had kicked off in February it had been the Samoans setting the early pace and seemingly determined to avoid a repeat of missing out on the title in 2012. They made the perfect start with a 30-24 victory over the Brumby Runners, handing the Canberra team their first PRC loss.
The opening round also saw an impressive fight-back from Queensland A to overturn a 24-18 deficit against the Warriors, Mitchell Felsman scoring three of his side’s tries at Ballymore, and a 27-11 loss for Tonga A against the Junior Waratahs in Sydney.
The Warriors bounced back from this defeat to beat the Brumby Runners 16-3 in driving rain at Viking Park, giving national coach Male cause to smile about after witnessing “a very big improvement in our defence” and seeing his players make “some progress” with their scrum in the difficult conditions.
Tonga A slipped to another defeat, this time 23-8 to Queensland A, so it was Samoa A who remained atop the standings after a 25-5 triumph over the Junior Waratahs, the Samoans having too much speed and power for their opponents.
This set up an Australian Series decider between Samoa A and Queensland A, the only unbeaten teams after two rounds. It was expected to be a tight battle, but Samoa A stamped their authority on the match at Ballymore and led 18-3 at half-time after tries from Misioka Timoteo and Maselino Paulino.
The loss of two players to the sin-bin within a minute of each other early in the second half could have proved costly for Samoa A, but they held on to win 24-8 and move to 12 points, three more than the Warriors who signed off in Australia with a 30-15 win over the Junior Waratahs in Sydney after recovering from a slow start.
IRB PACIFIC RUGBY CUP 2012 RESULTS:
24/02/12 – Brumby Runners 24-30 Samoa A – Canberra Stadium
26/02/12 – Junior Waratahs 27-11 Tonga A – Foreshaw Rugby Park
26/02/12 – Queensland A 36-24 Fiji Warriors – Ballymore
29/02/12 – Brumby Runners 3-16 Fiji Warriors – Viking Park
01/03/12 – Junior Waratahs 5-25 Samoa A – Foreshaw Rugby Park
01/03/12 – Queensland A 23-8 Tonga A – Ballymore
04/03/12 – Brumby Runners 0-0 Tonga A – Griffith Oval *
05/03/12 – Junior Waratahs 15-30 Fiji Warriors – Foreshaw Rugby Park
05/03/12 – Queensland A 8-24 Samoa A – Ballymore
* match postponed due to weather – result declared a 0-0 draw
New Zealand Series
09/03/12 – Crusaders Knights 13-17 Fiji Warriors – Rugby Park
09/03/12 – Blues Development XV 40-3 Tonga A – Bell Park
10/03/12 – Chiefs Development XV 71-17 Samoa A – ECOLight Stadium
13/03/12 – Blues Development XV 14-16 Fiji Warriors – Bell Park
15/03/12 – Highlanders Development XV 39-27 Samoa A – Logan Park
15/03/12 – Crusaders Knights 58-6 Tonga A – Rugby Park
17/03/12 – Chiefs Development XV 34-35 Fiji Warriors – Rugby Park
19/03/12 – Highlanders Development XV 62-8 Tonga A – Logan Park
19/03/12 – Hurricanes Development XV 29-16 Samoa A – Porirua Park
Pacific Island Series
11/10/12 – Tonga A 20-18 Samoa A – Teufaiva Stadium
15/10/12 – Fiji Warriors 42-34 Samoa A – Teufaiva Stadium
19/10/12 – Tonga A 16-25 Fiji Warriors – Teufaiva Stadium
This review is taken from the IRB World Rugby Yearbook 2013 - to order your copy click here.
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