Piukala double sinks USA

(IRB.COM) Saturday 15 June 2013
 Piukala double sinks USA
No way through: Tonga's defence holds firm against the USA. Photo: Kelley Cox

A brace of tries from Sione Piukala helped Tonga get back to winning ways in the Pacific Nations Cup 2013 with an 18-9 victory over the USA in Carson, California.

Tonga dominated play in both the tight and the loose, showing a clinical edge that has eluded the USA since their successful series win in Europe in the autumn.

It is now 256 minutes since Takudzwa Ngwenya crossed Romania's line back in November, and Head Coach Mike Tolkin understandably cut a disappointed figure following a third consecutive match without a try.

He said: Obviously our attacking is spluttering and we need to figure that out.

“Scrum-wise we held our own but it was a little bit sloppy and our lineout ball wasn’t clean and that’s normally a strong point. As a result we never got on the front foot and never got field territory.

“It was a tough, physical game and it was disappointing to come out of it the way we did.”

USA made a promising start and they were on the scoreboard as early as the fourth minute thanks to a Chris Wyles penalty.

It took just three minutes for Tonga to respond in kind, Viliami Hakalo on target with his first attempt at goal.

With Tonga on top, Piukala cut a nice line to stroll over under the posts for a try which Hakalo converted for a 10-3 lead.

On the half-hour mark Tonga captain Nili Latu was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Eagles lock Brian Doyle.

This allowed USA a foothold in the match as Wyles kicked the resulting penalty and added another to close the gap to a single point at the interval.

The second half started in disastrous fashion for the home side when Piukala picked off a loose pass from an attempted USA counter attack to score with the half just two minutes old. Replacement kicker Thomas Palu was unable to add the extras.

Unforced errors continued to blight the USA’s attempts to get back into the contest and, amid a raft of substitutions from both sides, Latu stepped up to kick Tonga’s third and final penalty of the evening.

“Hats off to Tonga they played a real physical game and ran some tough lines and put us under a lot of pressure,” Eagles outside centre Seamus Kelly reflected afterwards.

“I think we’ve just got to cut down on our mistakes; we’re a good team, we have the pieces, but we’ve just got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. Against teams of this calibre you can’t afford to do that and win.”

USA travel to Japan to play Fiji on June 19, with Tonga, who are now just two points behind PNC leaders Canada, taking on the same opponents four days later.