Fijians win tough rugby battle
Fiji 14 – Tonga 10
By ILIESA TORA
NUKU’ALOFA-July 7: 12pm (Nuku’alofa Times): IT was always going to be a tough, physical and bruising encounter.
Everyone who knows the history of rugby battles between the two close island countries of Fiji and Tonga knows that all love is lost on the rugby field for 80 minutes.
Today’s encounter here at Te’ufaiva Park was no less.
The forward battles was so intense, some of the players had to be attended to.
Fijian prop Peni Ravai did not last the entire 40 minutes of the second half.
Nor did Campese Ma’afu, Sunia Koto and Manasa Saulo, who took the breather at halftime and rested for the rest of the game after that.
Ma’afu was however recalled to re-join the battle after Ravai had to be forced off the field with an injury.
But after the 80 minutes of a bruising battle, the Flying Fijians were victorious.
In the process they also confirmed their berth at the 2019 Rugby World Cup as the Oceania qualifier.
The 14-10 scoreline is testimony to the tough, uncompromising battle that raged the whole 80 minutes.
Fans were on the edge of their seats throughout the Test match.
The Fijian fans were left to shout in relief when the game ended, following some good forward drives towards the tryline by the Tongan forwards.
Flying Fijian head coach John McKee had stated during the week that the game was not going to be easy.
He also warned his players that they needed to stay focused, play their own game, hold their defense and use their opportunities if they were going to win.
That they did well, although a few hiccups early on made them look as if they were struggling to settle down.
Captain Akapusi Qera led by example upfront for the Fijians and the offload king, Leone Nakarawa had a big impact on Fiji’s go forward moves, scoring the team’s only try after a good counter-attack and display of passing skills and understanding of the game with winger Patrick Osbourne.
Tonga’s halfback Sonatane Takulua was the stand-out again and his crafty skills and ability to smell gaps within the Fijian defense gave the local side a lot of opportunities.
Both teams lost good opportunities to score tries, in fact two each, with basic errors creeping into the game.
Tonga started early with Takulua converting a penalty from in front.
Ben Volavola, who had an outstanding outing for the Fijians, drew level with his own successful penalty attempt.
That gave the two sides a 3-all scoreline after the first spell of 40 minutes.
Tonga started strongly in the second half, with a try from the forwards following some great drives.
Takulua’s conversion gave Tonga a 10-3 advantage.
As Fijian fans cheered them on from the embankment, the visitors turned the pressure on and a passing movement started by Nakarawa saw him combine with Osbourne to cut through the Tongan defense.
In the end Nakarawa received the final pass and ran into the corner to touch down. Volavola missed the conversion but them made amends with two successive penalties to give Fiji the 14-10.
McKee said Fiji has achieved the aim of qualifying for the World Cup and thanked the players for a job well done.
Captain Qera thanked the fans who supported them and said the win was for all the people of Fiji.
Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva was chief guest at the Test match.
Fans enjoyed the rugby battle, with the Fijians on the embankment taking the cake.
It was Tonga’s second Test at Te’ufaiva in 10 years.
The win over Samoa last week was a good one but Fiji proved they had a better game plan that proved too good in the end.
Former Ikale Tahi coach and player Peseti Ma’afu said the Fijians know how to win against Tonga.
“They just played 20 minutes of rugby in the second half, did enough to win and then played the game out waiting for the whistle to sound,” Peseti, who also played rugby in Fiji during his prime, said.
Fiji now plays Australia, Wales and Georgia in Pool D at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Tonga and Samoa will now have to go through the repecharge to qualify for a spot at the premier event.
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