By Rich Freeman
Samoa and Fiji got off to winning starts as the IRB Pacific Nations Cup kicked off on Tuesday at Nagoya’s Mizuho Park Rugby Ground.
Samoa held on to beat Tonga 20-18, while Fiji proved too strong for Japan, scoring three tries to one in a 25-19 victory.
Samoa coach Stephen Betham admitted his side had been lucky to come away with the win, but said it was a good start on the road to Rugby World Cup 2015.
“We had nine new caps out there today,” he said. “It’s also a new management team, so it’s a real learning curve.”
Rebuilding Fiji rugby
Fiji coach Inoke Male, like his Samoan counterpart, said the result was the perfect start as his side looks to bounce back from a disappointing 2011.
“We are here to rebuild Fiji rugby,” Male said. “We all know what happened in the last World Cup and the boys all put in a great performance. The team morale was high and we did really good today.”
In the opening game of the double header, two mistakes from Tongan full back Viliami Iongi early in the second half gifted tries to Galuefa Falamore and David Lemi as Samoa made the most of the limited opportunities that came their way.
With both sides struggling to hold onto the ball, it was Tonga that dominated the first half, despite having Alaska Taufu sent to the sin bin for a tackle without the ball in just the second minute.
Iongi and centre Alipate Fatafehi both had a couple of good runs, but the Ikale Tahi were unable to finish off the good work and had to settle for three penalties from Kurt Morath. Ki Anufe replied with two penalties for Samoa as Tonga led 9-6 at the break.
But the game turned in Samoa’s favour shortly after the break.
Falamore charged down Iongi’s clearance kick in the 44th minute to go over for the first try, before Lemi made the most of the Tongan full back’s inability to cleanly gather a kick ahead to score the second.
Anufe converted both tries, and although Morath kept the Tongans within striking distance with three more penalties, it was Samoa that held on for the win.
“Obviously we are very disappointed with the result,” said Tonga coach Toutai Kefu. “But you saw the game, we didn’t deserve to win.”
Tonga captain Taniela Moa echoed his coach’s comments. “We had the opportunities to score but didn’t take them,” he said.
Fiji were also playing a number of new caps, but their speed and strength eventually proved too much for Japan.
Best lesson of 2012
Ayumu Goromaru had given Japan an early lead courtesy of three penalty goals, but the Fijians’ ability to launch counter-attacks off turnover ball saw them score two tries through Isake Katonibau and Waisea Nayacalevu, two of the Sevens stars drafted into the squad.
Setareki Koroilagilagi knocked over two penalties and Goromaru responded with one of his own early in the second half as both sides struggled with their discipline, before Fiji struck the decisive blow.
A clearance kick from by Nikola Matawalu was superbly taken on the run by Watisoni Votu and some good hands saw Vereniki Goneva go over in the corner.
Japan responded with a penalty try following a good rolling maul by the forwards and a conversion and penalty by Goromaru saw them close to within six points, but the Fiji defence held firm allowing them to leave Nagoya with four points.
“That was by far the best lesson we’ve had this year,” said Japan coach Eddie Jones. “They scored three tries from turnovers. So while I am disappointed by the result, I am encouraged by the performance.”
By Rich Freeman