The Fiji Warriors ended a see-saw battle in Dunedin with the Highlanders Development XV with a 37-37 draw on Monday.
The Warriors were coming off the back of wins over Brisbane Academy and Rebel Rising in the Australian series but it was the Highlanders Development team, in their first match of this year, who set the early pace.
The sides were locked in a tough first-half battle, each scoring a try – Fijian openside flanker Apisai Domolailai then Highlanders wing Jayden Spence – but the kicking of home fly half Lima Sopoaga was the difference as the Highlanders Development team took a 17-7 half-time lead at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The Warriors’ second-half riposte was swift, with two quick tries tying the scores at 20-20 with 25 minutes left, and for the rest of the match the Highlanders Development team were battling to rein in the visitors.
Sopoaga kept the hosts in touch but with only 12 minutes left Fiji had stretched to an 11-point lead thanks to tries from centre Nemani Nadolo and full back Aisea Natogo.
A try by the Highlanders Development team’s captain Charlie O’Connell and a Warriors penalty meant the visitors led by seven as the game neared its conclusion.
Fittingly it was Sopoaga – who finished with a personal tally of 27 points – who salvaged a draw for the Highlanders Development XV, converting his own try in the dying minutes.
Tonga A was thrashed by the Hurricanes Development 3-68 A at Lower Hutt with Rey Lee-Lo, Matt Proctor and Callum Gibbins all grabbing a brace of tries.
Scrum half Samisoni Fislau got the home side off to a great start with a try in the sixth minute and the points kept coming.
Tries from Proctor and Lee-Lo helped his side to a 35-3 margin at the break, then Lee-Lo crossed to reopen the scoring within two minutes of the restart, converted by fly half Ihaia West. The Hurricanes added another four tries in the second half, including a second for Proctor.
Samoa recorded the only win for the Pacific Islanders edging the Blues Development XV 19-17 at Waitemata Park by a last-gasp Samoa A penalty.
There was plenty of support among the 2,500-strong crowd for the visitors, who came into the match with two defeats and one win.
Samoa A started with gusto, opening the scoring in just the fifth minute when flanker Falemiga Selesele darted through several defenders to score.
The Blues’ forwards took matters into their own hands immediately from the restart, fashioning a rolling maul to reach the line and although held up, hooker Gafatasi Su’a burrowed over from the resulting scrum.
Poor handling thwarted the Blues Development team’s ambition but Waisake Naholo eventually dotted down to secure a 14-7 lead, before Samoa A’s James So’oialo kicked a penalty to narrow that lead.
Another So’oialo penalty cut the deficit to one point and midway through the second half a penalty put Samoa A 16-14 up before a Blues three-pointer reclaimed the lead with just 10 minutes to play.
So’oialo missed a penalty and when the Blues Development XV were penalised with time up on the clock, fly half Ki Anufe assumed the kicking duties to snatch the 19-17 win, much to the delight of the crowd.
Blues Development coach Bevan Cadwallader said: “We were out-passioned by a high-energy team. They made their own luck and really forced us to make uncharacteristic errors.”
Back in Australia, the Reds College XV posted their third straight win with a convincing 59-14 victory over Junior Japan at Ballymore.
Led by number 8 Curtis Browning, the Reds College XV followed up their success over Tonga A (24-3) earlier in the month.
The hosts were scarcely challenged, leading 33-0 at half-time. Keen-eyed spectators would have noticed a high-profile water-carrier at the game – Wallaby and Reds star Quade Cooper helping out tomorrow’s stars.
There is only one match remaining for Australian teams in this year’s Pacific Rugby Cup with Sydney Academy tackling Junior Japanat Griffith Oval in Canberra on Saturday. The other three core teams will play in New Zealand the same day with the Japanese team heading across the Tasman after their match.
Match summary: Highlanders 37 (Jayden Spence try, Charlie O’Connell 1 try, Lima Sopoaga 1 try, 6 penalties, 2 con) drew with the Fiji Warriors 37 (Nemani Nadolo 2 tries, Aisea Natoga 1 try, Apisai Domolailai 1 try, Ratunaisa Vatuiranuku 4 con 3 pen)
HT: 17-7 (Highlanders) FT: 37-37
Crowd: 700 Referee: Kane McBride