IRB Pacific Nations CUP
Japan and Fiji recorded victories in the latest round of Pacific Nations Cup matches.
USA 29-37 Japan
Blaine Scully scored a hat-trick of tries but still ended up on the losing side as USA fell to a 37-29 defeat at the hands of Japan in their Pacific Nations Cup opener in Carson, California.
In an outstanding personal display, the Leicester Tigers utility back crossed on 32, 61 and 68 minutes to take his overall tally in Tests to five from 19 appearances.
All of the Eagles’ other points came from fellow England-based players with Northampton number 8 Cam Dolan crossing for an early try and Chris Wyles of Saracens supplying nine points with the boot.
Japan matched the Eagles’ four-try total, with number 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani scoring twice in the second half to add to first-half scores for Fumiaki Tanaka and Akihito Yamada. Ayumu Goromaru kicked seven of his eight attempts at goal for a 17-point haul on the night.
Holani’s match started in disappointing fashion though when his pass from a lineout was intercepted by Dolan who ran in unopposed from 20 metres. Wyles added the extras.
The influence of former England captain Steve Borthwick as Japan’s new forwards coach was there for all to see when a well-executed maul brought a try for scrum half Tanaka with Goromaru’s conversion levelling the scores at 7-7.
Wyles and Goromaru then traded penalties before Scully proved his worth in defence with a try-saving tackle on Japan speedster Kenki Fukuoka. Undeterred, Japan kept the ball alive and after a period of continuous play Yomada cut a nice line to take a pass from Kane Thompson at pace and go in under the posts for a try which Goromaru converted to put the Brave Blossoms 17-10 up.
It was Japan’s turn for a short-lived lead, however, as good press defence from the Eagles caused Japan to loose possession just outside their own 22. Wyles picked up the loose ball and shrugged off a would-be tackler before drawing his man and putting Scully away in the corner. Wyles landed the touchline conversion to send the sides into the break all-square.
After his earlier mistake for Dolan’s try, Holani redeemed himself by giving Japan the lead two minutes into the second half when he picked up from the back of a scrum and crashed over. Goromaru kicked the conversion and then added a penalty to open up a 10-point gap.
With Japan’s scrum increasingly dominant, Holani grabbed his second try on 53 minutes and the trusty boot of Goromaru turned the five points into seven.
Coach Mike Tolkin changed his entire front row as the hour-mark approached, and the fresh legs appear to lift the Eagles who pulled five points back when Scully crossed for his second try.
In the 68th minute, the Wyles-Scully combination proved fruitful again to put USA within a score of the Brave Blossoms, but Goromaru closed the match out with his third penalty to make it nine wins out of nine for Eddie Jones’ side.
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Fiji 45-17 Tonga
By Greg Thomas, Lautoka
Under perfect conditions the Flying Fijians were far too good for Tonga in the Pacific Nations Cup clash in Lautoka. The Flying Fijians outscored their Island neighbours six tries to two to secure an impressive bonus point win and will await Samoa next week with confidence.
The pre-match war dances by Fiji [Cibi] and Tonga [Sipi Tau] performed simultaneously put the large crowd in an excitable mood and indicated that both sides were up for the challenge. However, the home side put the game out of reach of Tonga by half-time. Better drilled, more aggressive in the tackle and showing greater speed and application, Fiji were by far the better side in the first 40 minutes.
It took just two minutes for Fiji to start the scoring. The Fijian pack won a scrum on halfway and several phases later Tonga were ruled to be offside. Centre Nemani Nadolo slotted a penalty.
Just minutes later a seemingly lacklustre Tonga lost possession in their own half. Impressive lock Leone Nakarawa made space up the middle and fed fly half Jonetani Ralulu who threaded a delightful ball into the corner for wing Watisoni Votu to pounce on and score.
By this time Tonga were enjoying more possession and territory but it was Fiji, through sharp handling and the ability to offload in the tackle, who were clearly the better side. On the 10 minute mark Fiji secured more loose ball and Nakarawa was on hand again to make inroads into the Tonga defence. His pass on the 22 found Nadolo on the inside and he scored under the posts. Nadolo kicked both conversions to give Fiji a 17-0 lead.
Tonga responded with a penalty to Fagatapu ‘Apikotoa after 20 minutes as the game became scrappy with both teams making too many errors. Tonga pressed again, but on the half hour mark lost the ball deep in the Fiji 22. Adventurously, full back Timoci Nagusa spread the ball wide from his own line and after some slick passing left wing Sireli Bobo raced downfield. He broke two tackles, fed his scrum half Nikola Matawalu before taking a return pass deep in the Tonga half to score near the posts for a sensational try.
Nadolo converted and Tonga were clearly struggling with the pace of the game. Fiji then had a try disallowed to centre Adriu Delai for a forward pass but their dominance and offloading game saw them lead 24-3 at the interval.
Fiji started the second half as it finished the first and some big hits further rattled the Tongan side. With scum half Matawalu, lock Nakarawa, captain Akapusi Qera and Nodolo all impressing it wasn’t long before Fiji secured the bonus point through another exquisite try.
Replacement back-row forward Nemani Nagusa broke from the back of a scrum at pace on halfway and found Votu out wide on the right. Votu drew the defence found Matawalu who then gave it back and Votu scored his second. The conversion made it 31-3.
Whether it was over-confidence or tiredness Fiji seemed to relax and let Tonga back into the match. Votu was given a yellow card by referee Rohann Hoffman on the hour mark for not using his arms in a tackle and the game changed in its complexion.
With the one man advantage the Tongans had their best period of the match and used their forwards to make big inroads into the Fijian 22. In the space of five minutes Tongan replacement loose forward Viliami Fihaki scored two close-range tries.
Replacement fly half Latiume Fosita, who had impressed against Samoa last week, was instrumental in the turnaround. He kicked both conversions and Tonga, at 31-17 down, sensed they could still earn a losing bonus point out of the match.
However, as the game became less and less structured the Tongans had no answer to further Fiji incursions that saw Bobo score his second try before Dominiko Waqaniburotu finished the scoring with a popular try under the posts on full time. Nadolo again kicked both conversions giving him a perfect seven from seven record and a 20-point haul.
Room for improvement
Fiji coach John McKee was happy with the result but knows his side will have to improve further for the forthcoming Samoa match. “It looked very good on the scoreboard but there’s a lot of work to do in some areas of the game," McKee said. "We did very well with the ball at times but our defence was slow off the line."
He added: “It wasn’t fitness. I think we just didn’t take the right options in the early part of the second half to impose ourselves on the game. We actually allowed them to come back into it and they had some good momentum and some good go forward. They were very hard to hold out.”
Tongan captain Nili Latu said: “The Fijians are always dangerous from broken play and you can see today they punished us. We just had no answer. We were here to win and to fight to the end and played well in the second half. Last week the Samoans were not as quick and there’s no system on defence that can stop them from broken play. That’s the danger from the Fiji team.”
While Tongan coach Mana Otai declared: “I think we went away from what we were meant to be doing – the structured rugby – but that’s what happens when you give Fiji the space and the opportunity. They love showing their natural flair and playing dis-organised but good rugby, I guess. The key thing about playing against a side like Fiji is just don’t give them the ball.”