Irresistible Flying Fijians too hot for Tonga
Reigning Pacific Nations Cup champions Fiji open this year’s campaign with a resounding 45-17 home win over Tonga
Under perfect conditions the Flying Fijians were far too good for Tonga in the Pacific Nations Cup clash in Lautoka. The Flying Fijians outscored their Island neighbours six tries to two to secure an impressive bonus point win and will await Samoa next week with confidence.
The pre-match war dances by Fiji [Cibi] and Tonga [Sipi Tau] performed simultaneously put the large crowd in an excitable mood and indicated that both sides were up for the challenge. However, the home side put the game out of reach of Tonga by half-time. Better drilled, more aggressive in the tackle and showing greater speed and application, Fiji were by far the better side in the first 40 minutes.
It took just two minutes for Fiji to start the scoring. The Fijian pack won a scrum on halfway and several phases later Tonga were ruled to be offside. Centre Nemani Nadolo slotted a penalty.
Just minutes later a seemingly lacklustre Tonga lost possession in their own half. Impressive lock Leone Nakarawa made space up the middle and fed fly half Jonetani Ralulu who threaded a delightful ball into the corner for wing Watisoni Votu to pounce on and score.
By this time Tonga were enjoying more possession and territory but it was Fiji, through sharp handling and the ability to offload in the tackle, who were clearly the better side. On the 10 minute mark Fiji secured more loose ball and Nakarawa was on hand again to make inroads into the Tonga defence. His pass on the 22 found Nadolo on the inside and he scored under the posts. Nadolo kicked both conversions to give Fiji a 17-0 lead.
Tonga responded with a penalty to Fagatapu ‘Apikotoa after 20 minutes as the game became scrappy with both teams making too many errors. Tonga pressed again, but on the half hour mark lost the ball deep in the Fiji 22. Adventurously, full back Timoci Nagusa spread the ball wide from his own line and after some slick passing left wing Sireli Bobo raced downfield. He broke two tackles, fed his scrum half Nikola Matawalu before taking a return pass deep in the Tonga half to score near the posts for a sensational try.
Nadolo converted and Tonga were clearly struggling with the pace of the game. Fiji then had a try disallowed to centre Adriu Delai for a forward pass but their dominance and offloading game saw them lead 24-3 at the interval.
Fiji started the second half as it finished the first and some big hits further rattled the Tongan side. With scum half Matawalu, lock Nakarawa, captain Akapusi Qera and Nodolo all impressing it wasn’t long before Fiji secured the bonus point through another exquisite try.
Replacement back-row forward Nemani Nagusa broke from the back of a scrum at pace on halfway and found Votu out wide on the right. Votu drew the defence found Matawalu who then gave it back and Votu scored his second. The conversion made it 31-3.
Whether it was over-confidence or tiredness Fiji seemed to relax and let Tonga back into the match. Votu was given a yellow card by referee Rohann Hoffman on the hour mark for not using his arms in a tackle and the game changed in its complexion.
With the one man advantage the Tongans had their best period of the match and used their forwards to make big inroads into the Fijian 22. In the space of five minutes Tongan replacement loose forward Viliami Fihaki scored two close-range tries.
Replacement fly half Latiume Fosita, who had impressed against Samoa last week, was instrumental in the turnaround. He kicked both conversions and Tonga, at 31-17 down, sensed they could still earn a losing bonus point out of the match.
However, as the game became less and less structured the Tongans had no answer to further Fiji incursions that saw Bobo score his second try before Qera finished the scoring with a popular try under the posts on full time. Nadolo again kicked both conversions giving him a perfect seven from seven record and a 20-point haul.
Room for improvement
Fiji coach John McKee was happy with the result but knows his side will have to improve further for the forthcoming Samoa match. “It looked very good on the scoreboard but there’s a lot of work to do in some areas of the game,” McKee said. “We did very well with the ball at times but our defence was slow off the line.”
He added: “It wasn’t fitness. I think we just didn’t take the right options in the early part of the second half to impose ourselves on the game. We actually allowed them to come back into it and they had some good momentum and some good go forward. They were very hard to hold out.”
Tongan captain Nili Latu said: “The Fijians are always dangerous from broken play and you can see today they punished us. We just had no answer. We were here to win and to fight to the end and played well in the second half. Last week the Samoans were not as quick and there’s no system on defence that can stop them from broken play. That’s the danger from the Fiji team.”
While Tongan coach Mana Otai declared: “I think we went away from what we were meant to be doing – the structured rugby – but that’s what happens when you give Fiji the space and the opportunity. They love showing their natural flair and playing dis-organised but good rugby, I guess. The key thing about playing against a side like Fiji is just don’t give them the ball.”