Tonga finished their IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2008 campaign on a high by defeating Fiji last Friday 27-16 at Teufaiva Stadium in Nuku’alofa, securing their first win of the season to the delight of the watching King Taufa’ahu Tupou V of Tonga.
The Tongans had lost on the road to New Zealand Maori (20-9), Japan (35-13) and Australia A (90-7) before collecting a first bonus point in losing 20-15 to Samoa last weekend, but they had never lost to Fiji since the PNC began in 2006.
Both sides made their intentions clear early on with a hard and fast start to what was an entertaining and heart-stopping match, Fiji enjoying the wealth of early possession and perhaps ruing their failure to score a try or two in the opening 15 minutes with Taniela Rawaqa’s penalty their only points on the board.
Tonga dug deep and seized their first real opportunity when hooker Ephraim Taukafa scored the games opening try in the 23rd minute, one converted by Pierre Hola. However Fiji went in leading 13-7 at half time after centre Saula Radidi’s try and Rawaqa’s conversion and penalty.
Fiji did play their running game and continued to punch holes in the centres, although this flair caused the home crowd to go wild and produce even more noise when a robust Tongan ended the movement with a great tackle.
Tonga trailed though until the last quarter, Vungakoto Lilo’s penalty on the hour reduced the deficit to three points before wing Seti Kiole touched down to edge the hosts ahead, only for another Rawaqa penalty to put Fiji ahead 16-15.
The home side seemed to get more bulletproof as the game went on, the chance to impress on home soil kept them charging and in the end Tonga were simply too strong, their impressive pack laying the platform for the victory with captain Nili Latu scoring his side’s third try.
Epeli Taione also caught the eye in the centre, carving up the metres to earn his reward with a late try to put the gloss on a Tongan victory that was followed by scenes of dancing and hugging as the crowd joined their heroes on the pitch in celebration.
The final round of the IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2008 continues with Samoa entertaining Japan at Apia Park on Saturday before Australia A and New Zealand Maori clash in Sydney to determine who gets their hands on the silverware.
Photo: Tonga number 8 Samiu Vahafolau on the charge against Fiji – Photo: Zoomfiji