Wales got their mid-year tour of to a winning start but were made to work hard before beating Tonga 24-6 in Auckland on Friday.
Despite what the scoreline suggests, this was a tight affair and the result was in the balance until late in the game. Wales eventually outscored their opponents by two tries to none but they battled to cope with Tonga’s physicality, especially in the forward exchanges.
The opening half was evenly contested with Alex Cuthbert’s try and a Sam Davies penalty giving the visitors an 8-3 lead at the break, with Sonatane Takulua slotting a penalty for Tonga.
Cuthbert was in the thick of the action from the outset and had two tries disallowed during the opening quarter. In the third minute he dotted down in the right-hand corner, but his effort was disallowed after the TMO ruled that he had a foot in touch.
Sam Davies opened Wales’ account shortly afterwards via a penalty after Tonga’s backs strayed offside on defence.
Five minutes later, Davies delivered an inch-perfect crossfield kick and Cuthbert dived on the ball behind Tonga’s try-line, but televison replays revealed that there was no downward pressure from the wing.
Midway through the half, Cuthbert eventually crossed for the opening try after gathering his own kick ahead, inside Tonga’s 22, and although Davies failed to convert, Wales looked well set with the score 8-0 in their favour.
Takulua added a penalty in the 23rd minute and the rest of the half was a tight affair and Wales knew they would have to dig deep if they wanted to see off their hosts.
Shorlty after the start of the second half, Takulua narrowed the gap with his second penalty but conditons became more difficult as most of the second half was played in driving rain.
Davies added his second penalty and there was little interesting to report for the next 15 minutes as the rainy conditions led to a plethora of unforced errors from both sides.
Tonga mistakes proved costly as the half progressed, especially at the breakdowns, with the highlight of the second period being a monster tackle by David Halaifonua on Cory Allen as two further penalties from Sam Davies meant his side led 17-6 by the 78th minute.
And just before full-time, Wales sealed victory when referee Nick Briant awarded them a penalty try after Tonga’s forwards collapsed a maul illegally close to their try-line.
TONGA – 06
Penalties: Sonatane Takulua (23,44)
WALES – 24
Tries: Alex Cuthbert (19), Penalty Try (80)
Penalties: Sam Davies (3,52,68)
Tonga: 15 David Halaifonua, 14 Nafi Tu’itavake, 13 Siale Piutau (c), 12 Vili Tahitu’a, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Latiume Fosita, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Valentino Mapapalangi, 7 Nili Latu, 6 Dan Faleafa, 5 Sitiveni Mafi, 4 Leva Fifita, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Latu Talakai
Replacements: 16 Suliasi Taufalele, 17 Sila Puafisi, 18 Phil Kite, 19 Sione Tau, 20 Mike Faleafa, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Kali Hala, 23 Kiti Taimani
Wales: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts (c), 11 Steffan Evans, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Ellis Jenkins, 20 Ollie Griffiths, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Cory Allen
Date: Friday, June 16
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand