Churchill Park played host to a grand showing of Pasifika rugby last Saturday. In the second week of the Pacific Nations Cup matches, the Flying Fijians took on the ‘Ikale Tahi in a match that displayed the brilliance of both nations.
The home side got off to a flying start, and just five minutes into the contest they opened the scoring through a penalty try. Putting immediate pressure on at set piece, the Flying Fijians penalty try also saw a yellow card to Tonga’s Tanginoa Halaifonua.
A beautifully orchestrated shift wide by the Fijians saw Captain and Outside Centre Waisea Nayacalevu glide through the Tongan defence and score from 40 meters out. Scoring just minutes after their first, the Flying Fijians were looking at their dangerous best with just seven minutes gone on the clock. The mid-field combination of Josua Tuisova and Nayacalevu were proving unstoppable to start the game and were key factors to the score being 12-0 seven minutes in.
Back in an identical position their first try, the Fijians went back to their driving maul. With a man still in the bin for the ‘Ikale Tahi, the Fijian forward pack were far too strong, and drove over the line for hooker Sam Matavesi to score his team’s third try.
Nineteen-nil just twelve minutes in, Tonga remained resilient and answered back with a lineout drive of their own. Hooker Siua Maile scored Tonga’s opening try, which seemed to be exactly what the visitors needed to inspire an early comeback.
A strong carry by former Moana Pasifika player Solomone Kata laid the foundation for the ‘Ikale Tahi to attack deep in the Fijian half. A one-two punch from Tonga’s second row saw lock Halaleva Fifita muscle over for his nations second try, bring the score to 19-12.
A penalty from 40 out for first-five Otumaka Mausia, saw Tonga close the gap to four points.
On the stroke of halftime, a clearing kick from Tonga failed to find touch as fullback Sireli Maqala swooped in to spark a last effort counterattack. Another simple shift wide this time saw second-five Josua Tuisova cross over untouched to make the halftime score 26-15 to the Flying Fijians.
Early in the second spell, Moana Pasifika’s very own under 20’s winger Kyren Taumoefolau would score his first international try in just his second game for the ‘Ikale Tahi, set up brilliantly by veteran Salesi Piatau.
The Flying Fijian set piece was the story of the game, as the home team crossed over once again, this time from a five-metre scrum. Replacement halfback Peni Matawalu capitalized on the hard work of his forward pack and dove on the ball on the fulltime hooter to conclude the epic match between the Flying Foijians and ‘Ikale Tahi at 36-20.
An excellent spectacle of Pasifika rugby at its finest, this match-up in Lautoka saw both nations build confidence as they head into their Rugby World Cup campaigns.
The cohesivity and flair from both teams was extremely impressive for just Fiji’s first and Tonga’s second game of the year. The Flying Fijians showed a huge improvement in their set piece and were extremely dominant up front which allowed for the strike power out wide to play with confidence. A dynamic game from midfielders Josua Tuisova and captain Waisea Nayacalevu who were destructive, the entire forward pack showed great maturity and presence as they dominated the set piece all game.
The ‘Ikale Tahi showed great courage and resilience despite being on the back foot from the get-go. Despite being outclassed at the set piece, the Tongan forward pack showed their physicality and looked very cohesive with ball in hand. With pure X-factor and great depth out wide, the ‘Ikale Tahi management will have a hard time deciding who makes the 23 going forward.
On test debut, flyhalf and debutant Caleb Muntz looked extremely impressive and extremely comfortable in the driver’s seat. Muntz’s control of the pace of the game was the key to unlocking the X-factor he had outside of him, and in a match where the Fijian forward pack did well to lay a strong foundation, Muntz brought out the best of his team and had great composure. The firepower outside him in the form of Tuisova and Nayacalevu, not to mention Fiji’s depth in former All Black Seta Tamanivalu, Iosefo Masi and Semi Radradra, give Fiji very formidable options to form their 10,12 and 13 combinations. Last Saturday’s performance was a statement game by Muntz to claim the number 10 jersey for Fiji this World Cup.
In Tonga’s first two games this year, the brilliance of fullback Salesi Piatau has been on full display for his home nation. Despite limited options this game, Piatau showed that he can break the game open at any given minute.
In a forward pack that was up for the physical battle with the Fijians, Moana Pasifika’s Solomone Funaki was at his typical best. A relentless defensive performance and disruptive force at the breakdown, Funaki has gone from strength to strength this year and is looking to continue his form in the red jersey.
Manu Samoa claimed a nail-biting 24-22 victory over Japan in Hakkaido on Saturday. In a back-and-forth affair, the Manu showed great resilience to grind out a win in enemy territory. Japan were composed and aggressive early on, and were threatening the Samoa line just five minutes into the match. After waves of threatening carries, lock Amato Fakatava broke through the Manu’s line to reach out and open the scoring for his nation.
In a well-worked lineout play, Japan’s hooker Atsushi Sakate found space down the left flank, but was brought down and out metres away from the tryline. After analysis from the video ref, Samoa’s blindside Taleni Seu was given a yellow card for his covering tackle slipping above the shoulders.
Ten-nil down with twenty minutes gone in the contest, Manu Samoa were given a penalty on the 40-metre line, giving debutant fly-half Christian Lealiifano the opportunity to score his first points for his home nation.
The infringement by Japan’s captain Michael Leitch was also seen to be a red card offence, leaving Japan with 14 men.
After a slow start, the Manu found their momentum and were threatening the Japan line through strong carries from Seu, Michael Curry and Luteru Tolai. Just metres from the line, Moana Pasifika’s openside Alamanda Motuga pounced on a pick and go to score Samoa’s first try.
Another line-break from the impressive Fakatava deep into Samoa’s half resulted in a penalty which saw Japan head into halftime with a 13-10 lead.
Japan came out of the changing rooms firing as they carried hard metres out from the Samoa line. After ten phases attacking the line, Samoa’s defence proved too strong for the home team to break through. However, an offside infringement from Samoa gave Japan a penalty right in front of the posts to take the game to 16-10.
In a momentum shifting reply, opportunistic halfback Jonathan Taumateine charged down a clearing kick and dived on the loose ball to score Samoa’s second. Brilliantly converted by Lealiifano from the right touch line, the score now 19-17 with twenty minutes left meant this game was team’s for the taking.
Another penalty conceded by Samoa at the breakdown gave flyhalf Seungsin Lee his fifth successful penalty, taking Japan’s lead to five points.
Feeding a scrum on Japan’s 22 metre line, the Manu went down the blind to fullback Danny Toala who set up Tumua Manu to beat his opposite and score in the left corner to give Samoa the chance to take the lead. Tied at 22-22, Lealiifano from the left side line made no mistake with his conversion and gave the visitors the lead with fifteen minutes to go.
The Japanese attack came in waves as they challenged the Manu Samoa line for the final period of the game. Showing relentless defence, the Manu were determined to hold on in Japan. Minutes after the final hooter sounded, Japan were still recycling the ball looking for an opportunity to break through, but a clearing neckroll by Japan at the breakdown saw the referee award Samoa with a penalty, ending the game at 24-22.
In such a highly contested match, Japan and Samoa both delivered an exciting game of rugby that both teams can take many positives from. Being down a man for a large majority of the match, Japan’s team chemistry and ability to wear down the Samoan defence was a huge asset for them. Although Japan will be thoroughly disappointed with their performance and the many unforced errors, their ability to dominant the lineout and muscle up with the physicality of the Manu kept them in the game despite being short of their captain.
The Manu Samoa will be extremely pleased in their ability to remain resilient and hold on to win such a tightly contested game. With a very strong set piece, Samoa’s forwards were threatening with ball in hand. Despite a 50% lineout success rate in the second half, Samoa’s attitude on defence was ultimately what won them the game. It’ll be a positive sign for Head Coach Seilala Mapusua to know that his team has the attitude and belief to win a game like this despite not playing at the level they know they are capable of, a worrying sign for their opponents this World Cup. With 19 of their 24 points coming by the way of Moana Pasifika players, the Super Rugby franchise can be reassured that their vision of developing these international players is continuing to be effective.
Lock forward Amato Fakatava was arguably the best player on the field for both teams last Saturday. Scoring the first try, Fakatava found himself breaking the line multiple times, giving his team a great foundation to build from. The match was contested in the forwards, and the Japanese forward pack d by Fakatava delievered a strong perfroamce which showed they could contest with the strength and size of the Pacific nations.
The Moana Pasifika combination of halfback Jonathan Taumateine and debutant flyhalf Christian Lealiifano were influential last Saturday night. Their ability to control their team and efficiently escape the danger of Japan showed great maturity and leadership, and their chemistry as the navigators of the game showed they were capitalizing off the years spent playing beside each other.
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