Samoa remain the only unbeaten side in this year’s IRB Pacific Nations Cup following a 29-26 win over Fiji at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo, Japan on Sunday.
Samoa captain David Lemi led by example crossing twice as Stephen Betham’s team put themselves in a position to clinch the title next week if they beat Japan at the same venue.
“Both teams gave it their all today,” said coach Betham. “The last few minutes were very competitive as Fiji never gave up, so I am very proud of my players.”
Lemi agreed with his coach adding: “Hopefully we can use this as a base and raise our level for next week’s game against Japan.”
The hosts will enter Round 3 looking to end the tournament on a high after falling to their second straight defeat, a 24-20 loss to Tonga.
“We made some elementary errors at crucial times in the game,” said Japan coach Eddie Jones. “We gave them some ridiculously easy points and created enough opportunities to win the game.”
Samoa edge entertaining encounter
Played under perfect conditions in the nation’s capital, Samoa and Fiji combined for six tries in the opening game of the double header.
Following an early exchange of penalties between Setareki Koroilagilagi and his Samoa counterpart Ki Anufe, Fiji got the try fest going with Nemia Kenatale going over in the 10th minute as the Fijians launched a counter-attack from deep in their own half.
Koroilagilagi added the extras as Fiji went 10-3 up.
A second exchange of penalties followed before two scintillating tries in the space of two minutes saw Samoa take the lead.
Ben Masoe scored the first in the 27th minute following a well-judged kick from Lemi, before Paul Williams, Paul Perez and Faatoina Autagavaia combined to put Lemi away in the corner as Samoa went into the break leading 18-13.
The second half saw both sides look to play expansive rugby though handling errors from both teams meant it wasn’t until the 50th minute that Lemi extended his side’s lead.
A third exchange of penalties followed before Netani Talei’s try in the 73rd minute closed the gap to five.
Anufe’s fourth penalty of the day secured the win but Tuapati Talemaitoga’s late try ensured the Fijians left Tokyo with a bonus point.
“We played some good rugby for the first 20 minutes, but then made too many unforced errors,” rued Fiji coach Inoke Male.
Japan still searching for first win
In the second game, Tonga outscored Japan three tries to two to ensure Toutai Kefu got the better of his former coach, Jones.
“It’s good to get the win but whether we played well or not [I don’t know],” Kefu said. “But it’s good to finish on the right side of the scoreboard."
Tonga opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Kurt Morath knocked over a penalty.
But Japan bounced back and scored the first try of the game five minutes later, when debutant Hendrik Tui was pushed over by the pack following a well-executed driving maul.
Ayumu Goromaru added the extras from out wide as Japan went 7-3 up.
But the cheers of the crowd quickly turned to moans as an error from the restart allowed Alaska Taufa to cross, with Morath adding the conversion to give Tonga a 10-7 lead.
A Goromaru penalty in the 19th minute saw the teams draw level before Tonga made the most of some poor defending to regain the lead, through Taniela Moa.
Morath’s conversion made it 17-10 and that’s how the teams turned around at the break.
Two minutes into the second half, some quick thinking by Goromaru saw Japan again pull level.
The full back reacted quickest when his penalty hit the post, regathered the rebound and powered over for the try.
To add salt to Tonga’s wound Goromaru then added the conversion from almost the exact same spot as the original penalty.
But Paula Kaho’s try in the 61st minute once again saw Tonga regain the initiative and although Goromaru added a second penalty, Tonga held on for the win.
The third match day sees Samoa take on Japan in Tokyo on 17 June. You can watch the match LIVE on irb.com. Click here for more details.