In the highly anticipated rematch of the Pacific Nations Cup final of 2022, the Manu Samoa played host to the Flying Fijians at Apia Park Stadium. With both teams entering their second international game of the year, this pacific rivalry shaped up to be a high-level matchup that continuously displayed the flair and passion of Pasifika rugby.
Two weeks in a row it was the Fijians who got off to a flying start. Another dominate start by their forwards, hooker Tevita Ikanivere took advantage of a napping Samoan defence, taking a five-metre tap and diving over to open the scoring.
Minutes later the Fijians were back on Samoa’s line, this time spreading wide to captain Semi Radradra who delivered a beautiful short ball to a bursting Iosefo Masi to score on debut, Fiji’s second try 15 minutes in.
The opening 15 minutes was played at a frantic pace, and the Fijians were relentless with ball in hand. The visitors showed that their dominance at set piece last week against the ‘Ikale Tahi wasn’t a one-off performance and continued to apply the unfaultering pressure.
Fijian Drua hooker Ikanivere capitalized from the back of his team’s maul to score his second of the evening.
It was three tries in where the ‘Ikale Tahi mounted their comeback last week and the same situation appeared to take place in Samoa.
Finally with good field possession, a strong lineout drive of their own sucked the Fijian defence in, allowing Duncan Paia’aua to throw a long ball wide to fullback Danny Toala in a two on two. Giving Nigel Ah Wong a chance down the line, the right winger went back in field to Toala to who tipped on to a storming Christian Lealiifano to muscle over the line to score his first try for the Manu.
A penalty to Caleb Muntz took the score to 20-5 with ten minutes remaining in the half.
A scuffle in the middle of the field gave Samoa another chance to cut the lead deep in the Fijian half, but the suffering defence of the Fijians proved impenetrable.
Manu Samoa opted to put a grubber through, but it was swooped up by the dangerous winger Kalaveti Ravouvou who broke through a staggered line. Freeing the ball for Ilaisa Droasese, the fullback drew in the last line of defence to release Drua winger Salestino Ravutaumada to streak 50 metres down the right sideline to score in the corner. The beautifully well worked try was converted by Muntz from the sideline to extend Fiji’s lead.
On the stroke of halftime, another penalty for Caleb Muntz saw Fiji head into halftime with a 30-5 lead over the Manu Samoa.
The Manu came out of the break firing and were immediately on the attack. Marching down field, Samoa was threatening the Fiji line when a silky tap-on by fullback Danny Toala freed Tumua Manu in the left corner to score the home team’s second.
After some poor discipline which gave Muntz his third penalty of the match, Samoa found themselves back on Fiji’s line. Strong carries by the forwards, it was eventually the captain Frtiz Lee who drove over the line to bring the score to 33-19, which would also be the final score of this Pacific Nations matchup.
The Manu Samoa showed tremendous heart and resilience in this match up, fighting till the 80th minute to try and turn the game around. After getting off to a slow start, the Manu’s standout performers in this game came in the form of their second unit. The impact off the bench was led by debutant Sama Malolo, who brought a great amount of energy and power to the Samoan forward pack. Completing the replacement front row was another debutant Titi Lamositele and the veteran Charlie Faumuina who were both extremely solid at set piece. Replacement halfback Melani Matavao also added plenty of energy off the bench and was playing confidently off the back of a strong forward pack who turned up in the second half.
In their opening two weeks, Manu Samoa have shown they are capable of being a strong attacking team when they can string phases together. Lealiifano has been influential in the playmaking slot and his forwards have always been up for the physical battle. Once they start keeping possession and being efficient with their recycling of the ball, Manu Samoa will be a very dangerous team in France this year.
For two weeks in a row now the Fijian forwards have been exceptional. Their set piece has been unstoppable and their speed and cohesion with ball in hand has been next to perfect. Carrying their team to early three try leads in both games, it is exceptional to see the drastic improvement this side has made in this department. In addition to their much-improved forward play, the Flying Fijians have always been renowned for their star power out wide, and that is something they still have in abundance. Radradra, Masi and Ravouvou are three versatile players that all have the tackle breaking ability equal to that of the best in the world and were all superb in Apia on Saturday. The more this team plays, the more chances they get to develop their chemistry and on-field combinations, making them a very real threat come World Cup.
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