A great Pacific rivalry kicked off last Saturday as the ‘Ikale Tahi ventured to Apia Park to take on the Manu Samoa. In another opportunity for these nations to shine on the world stage, both teams were looking to bounce back and right their wrongs from last week against their Pasifika brothers.
Mouth-watering matchups all over the field were headlined by the world-class fullbacks Salesi Piutau and Tim Nanai-Williams. Former All Blacks Vaea Fifita and Steven Luatua clashed at number 8, wingers Solomone Kata and Ed Fidow battled on their edge, and the big men Charlie Faumuina and Ben Tameifuna locked horns in the front row.
Putting the pressure on early, the ‘Ikale Tahi had an opportunity to put the first points on the board in the fourth minute through the boot of Moana Pasifika’s William Havili. A good reward for the pressure Tonga had built off the back of early Manu Samoa mistakes.
Manu Samoa’s campaign so far showed promise and well-structured offence; however, they had not been able to complete their attacking possessions, which continued in the first half on Saturday. Despite stringing numerous phases together early, they let Tonga off the hook due to their mistakes.
The ‘Ikale Tahi did exceptionally well to weather the storm, allowing William Havili to put a monstrous kick downfield from close to his 22 to secure a 50/22 and a brilliant attacking position for the ‘Ikale Tahi to flip the momentum.
A penalty tap quickly taken by Salesi Piutau led to another penalty for Tonga, giving the visitors a lineout 5 metres out.
With the ultimate composure under pressure, Steven Luatua secured a turnover to relieve his team of the Tongan pressure.
A seesaw battle of error to error disallowed either team an opportunity to settle into the game, and the first half became a battle between the first fives as they traded penalty shots.
Not releasing at the breakdown by Tonga gave D’Angelo Leuila a chance to square the game from 45 out. Into a strong headwind, the new first five sailed the ball through the sticks with metres to spare.
A 5-metre scrum feed for Samoa saw Samoa attacking the line through numerous crash balls. A sustained period of pressure by Samoa saw their forward pack patiently poking. Their close-quarter rugby proved too much to contain at the line as hooker Sama Malolo broke through to score the match’s first try under the posts. It was easily converted by Leuila, 10-3 Manu Samoa.
An unfortunate injury to William Havili allowed Otumaka Mausia to enter the game just 25 minutes into the match. The replacement ten slotted a penalty from 25 out to cut the lead to four.
A terrible injury to Manu Samoa’s Centre Ulupano Junior Seuteni injury to Seuteni saw Christian Lealiifano make an early appearance.
The seesaw affair continued well into the dying moments of the first half, with another chance for Mausia to take a shot at goal 5 metres in his own half.
The battle of penalties continued, with Leuila securing another 3-pointer on the stroke of halftime.
13-9 was the score as both teams headed into the sheds for a much-needed break from the blistering Apia conditions.
The high-paced game was taking a toll on both teams as multiple players went down with injuries, not a sight either Coach would like to see as they prepare for the World Cup.
Finally, with a 5-metre lineout feed, the Manu constructed a dominant lineout maul that bustled over the line to give Moana Pasifika’s Miracle Faiilagi his first try for his home nation.
A mistake from the Tongan lineout deep in the Samoan half gave the Saman backs their best opportunity to counterattack and capitalise on a staggered Tongan line. Setting up shop in the Tongan 22, some silky hands as they shifted wide by Lealiifano saw Duncan Paia’aua stroll over untouched for his team’s second try, taking the score to 27-9.
Minutes later, the Manu Samoa were given another opportunity to strike from their own 22. The electric Fidow split through the Tongan defence to take his team into the Tongan half. Samoa was settling into their game while the visitors continued to be their own worst enemy.
Once again, the quick hands of Samoa saw them break through the Tongan line, taking them to the Tongan 22. A quick tap taken by replacement halfback Melani Matavao saw him one-on-one with Vaea Fifita, and some silky footwork left the Tongan flanker in the dust as Matavao dove over for another 5-pointer. Matavao’s converted try by Leuila would be the game’s last points, bringing the full-time score to 34-9.
Manu Samoa Summary
After getting off to a slow start, the Manu finally looked like the team everyone had been hoping for in the second half. Despite injuries and the conditions substantially affecting the game, Samoa’s composure and ability to play their own game paid off as they delivered some beautiful passages of play. With a handful of breaks and runs from deep in their half by the likes of Ed Fidow, for the second week running, Samoa’s impact off the bench stood out on Saturday. With Head Coach Seilala Mapusua opting for early replacements, the second unit was the catalyst for Samoa pulling away in the second forty. Leading the way was lock Theodore McFarland. The Six foot six, 115kg second rower was unstoppable when he came on, combing well with the physical powerhouses of Paul Alo-Emile and Fritz Lee. Moana Pasifika’s Luteru Tolai was excellent at set piece and brought together a dynamic forward pack.
A brilliant spark off the bench, Melani Matavao was an immediate impact at halfback. Lifting the pace around the ruck and even crossing over for his own, the replacement nine was a livewire that sparked a decisive second half.
‘Ikale Tahi Summary
Tonga will be disappointed with their performance on Saturday, knowing that they can produce much more. In a fourth reshuffled lineup in as many weeks, the ‘Ikale Tahi did not seem to have any fluidity in their attack and could not establish any momentum with their set piece. Head Coach Toutai Kefu described this performance as a step backwards for his team. They will be looking to return to the form they showed against Australia A as they head home to face Canada.
The Flying Fijians continue their unbeaten streak with a 35-12 win over the Brave Blossoms in Japan. Despite Japan suffering their second red card in three weeks in the opening 15 minutes, the Fijians were relentless with the ball and threatened to score from everywhere on the field. Never failing to score 30 points in their games this year, Fiji’s attacking power has put the world on notice as they prepare for two weeks of tough tests against France and England.
Tries: Nayacalevu (4), Mawi (17), Kuruvoli (38), Lomani (58,81).
Conversions; Volavola (5,18,39,59), Tela (82See all news