Fiji were crowned Pacific Nations Cup champions after they outclassed Samoa 39-29 in an entertaining final at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby.
Leone Nakawara and Nikola Matawalu were the stars of the show for Fiji, with the second-row running in two of his side’s five tries in the contest.
Matawalu added one of his own while Kini Murimurivalu and Akapusi Qera were also scorers as they sent a warning shot to their World Cup pool opponents.
Despite being defeated, Samoa did show glimpses that will worry Scotland and South Africa later in the year, with their tries coming from Jack Lam and Fa’atoina Autagavaia, who claimed two brilliant finishes for his team.
The fans enjoyed a breathtaking start from the Fijians as outstanding second-row Nakawara broke with his first touch, making 20 metres to set his side on their way downfield. In fact his efforts resulted in the game’s first try on two minutes as he finished what he started with a lovely line that took him under the uprights. Assured fly-half Josh Matavesi landed the simple conversion to make it a 7-0 advantage, capping a perfect opening.
Matavesi could not send over a penalty on five minutes but made no such mistake on the fifteen minute mark as Fiji were well on top in Burnaby.
Fortunately for Samoa they then settled and cut the lead on eighteen minutes as fly-half Michael Stanley launched over three points from range.
But back came the Fijians with another of the stars of recent PRO12 seasons, Matawalu, joining Nakawara on the scoresheet as he raced over off the back of a loose line-out. Suddenly with Matavesi’s conversion Fiji were now 17-3 to the good and looking heavy favourites to claim the Cup.
Samoa rallied however before the break and with two Stanley penalties they went in just 17-9 adrift. It probably should have been even tighter.
Four minutes into the second-half Samoa did manage to further reduce that gap when flanker Lam wriggled through for a score which made it 17-16.
And that prompted a pulsating spell in Burnaby as Samoa took the lead through wing Autagavaia who crossed for an excellent try. From first-phase ball off a scrum he stepped through three players before racing into the right corner to push his team into a 17-21 lead inside 50 minutes.
The quality of Fiji then shone through though as first replacement fly-half Ben Volavola’s cross-kick led to Nakawara’s brace and then another two tries, from full-back Murimurivalu and flanker Qera, put them 36-24 in front as they put one hand on the Pacific Nations Cup.
A yellow card for Fiji replacement Peceli Yato gave Samoa hope of launching a late fightback and they did cross again through wing Autagavaia. But the late comeback wasn’t to be completed as the Fijians kept their cool and Volavola’s penalty from wide out with three minutes to play sealed the win.
Tries: Nakawara 2, Matawalu, Murimurivalu, Qera
Con: Matavesi 2, Volavola 2
Pen: Matavesi, Volavola
Tries: Lam, Autagavaia 2
Pen: Stanley 4
Fiji: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Metuisela Talebula, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Josh Matavesi, 9 Niko Matawalu, 8 Masi Matadigo, 7 Akapusi Qera (c), 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Sunia Koto, 1 Campese Ma’afu.
Replacements: 16 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Isei Colati, 19 Nemia Soqeta, 20 Peceli Yato, 21 Nemia Kenatale, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Napolioni Nalaga.
Samoa: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Fa’atoina Autagavaia, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Faialaga Afamasaga, 11 Alesana Tuilagi (c), 10 Michael Stanley, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Vavae Tuilagi, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Fa’tiga Lemalu, 4 Joe Tekori, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Manu Leiautaua, 1 Zak Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Williams, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Jake Grey, 19 Filo Paulo, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Vavao Afemai, 22 Patrick Faapale, 23 Sinoti Sinoti.
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)