Samoa edge Tonga in enthralling opener

(IRB.COM) Sunday 13 June 2010
 
 Samoa edge Tonga in enthralling opener
IRB Sevens Player of the Year Mikaele Pesamino scored Samoa's third try against Tonga in their opening PNC match in Apia

Samoa fought off a spirited Tonga challenge in the second match of the 2010 ANZ Pacific Nations Cup as the hosts recorded a 24-23 victory in Apia.

Kurt Morath kicked 13 points for the visitors but tries from Junior Poluleuligaga, a penalty and Sevens star Mikaele Pesamino secured victory for the hosts in sweltering heat.

Tonga have never beaten Samoa in the PNC, but with a number of new players and coach, former All Black Isitolo Maka, the Ikale Tahi came the closest yet in their first match of this year's tournament.

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Morath put the visitors ahead early in the first half before Samoa's full back Paul Williams leveled the scores at 3-3, but the son of All Blacks' Bryan Williams missed two further penalties before Morath restored Tonga's three-point advantage with his second penalty.

The Samoan forwards, who were dominant throughout the match, laid the platform for scrum half Poluleuligaga to scamper over the line for the first try of the match, however, with Sevens star Lolo Lui converting to give the hosts a 10-6 lead at half time.

After the restart Morath narrowed the scores to 10-9 with his third penalty after 51 minutes but five minutes later the Tongan defence were penalised as the Samoan forwards once again proved their superiority in the scrum and were awarded a penalty try which Lui converted.

In the 65th minute Tonga clawed their way back into the match again as a pass from Lui in attack saw Tongan full back Vungakato Lilo intercept and race 80 metres to cross under the posts despite the best efforts of Pesamino.

The IRB Sevens Player of the Year gave the crowd what they had been waiting for with 10 minutes to go, however, as he all but secured victory.

After receiving the ball from Sevens teammate Uale Mai, he crossed in the corner and Lui added a difficult conversion, which would prove to be crucial, to give the hosts some breathing space at 24-16.

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Tonga were not done yet though and scored an impressive try as their backs decided to run from deep with wing Alaska Taufa the beneficiary of some fine passing to score.

Morath added the conversion to take his match tally to 13 and give Tonga some momentum heading into the next round of matches, but the Samoans held on to win their opening match 24-23.

Samoa play Japan next week who lost to Fiji in the opening match 22-8 in Lautoka on Saturday, whilst Tonga meet Fiji.

Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger:

"The team has just come together and we needed some time to get going. We knew Tonga would be strong but we targeted their line out and scrum and the heat played a role in the match as well."

Tonga captain Aleki Lutui:

"There are a lot of young players in the team and it will take some time to get going. There is a lot of work needed as we have to get the basics right and get our combinations correct before the next match. We scored some opportunist tries, which was good but we need to work on getting more into the game."