Fiji backs shred Tongan defence
By Vela Naucukidi
Fiji outscored Tonga seven tries to two in a 47-20 mauling at Prince Charles Park on Saturday to secure top place in the Pacific Tri-nations RWC qualifiers. The win puts Vodafone Fiji above Samoa on points difference and into Pool B at next year’s World Cup with France and Scotland.
"Fiji just had too much pace and experience for us," Tongan coach Jim Love exclaimed. "Their backs tore us to pieces while we played like the third-place getters that we were."
Tonga had already been confined to third spot in the table irrespective of Saturday’s result. They must now play the winners of the Cooks-PNG play-off, then face an Asian team in the repechage. If they win that, the Ikale Tahi will go into Pool D with New Zealand and Wales.
Manu Samoa now have the unenviable task of being pooled with South Africa and England.
Fiji kept the Tongans try-less in the first half with good defence work and support play, going into the break with a handy 23-6 advantage.
In the first minute, Joseph Narruhn opened the score for Fiji with a penalty awarded for a Tongan offside.
Andrew Mailei at second five for Tonga levelled the scores in the fifth minute, but failed to give them the lead moments later when Fiji were caught off-side.
Narruhn added another three points before the backline sprang into action.
Seru Rabeni, playing brilliantly at inside centre, set up two tries with crafty chip-kicks over the Tonga line. He also interacted well with centre Vili Satala, fullback Norman Ligairi and wing Isaac Mow to carve holes in the defence.
Ligairi it was that touched down for Fiji’s first try in the 18th minute following a break from striding lock Ifereimi Rawaqa and support from loose forward Koli Sewabu.
Indeed, Fiji’s back row of Sewabu, Seta Tawake and Sisa Koyamaibole performed admirably all day against a strong Tongan trio of Viliami Vaki, Christopher Halangi and skipper Inoke Afeaki.
All three made scything runs of 30 to 40 metres and battled hard in the loose.
Shortly after Ligairi’s opening try, Fiji hooker Greg Smith's foot injury played up and he had to be replaced by Bill Gadolo.
Two minutes later, though, Isaac Mow scored a blistering end-to-end try to increase Fiji’s lead to 16-3. Tonga had looked dangerous in the Fiji 22, but a quick turnover saw the ball move from Bill Satala to Rabeni and into Mow’s hands. The Suva wing made it to halfway, sidestepped the cover and was left with a 50-metre sprint to the line with Sam Hala on his tail.
Satala was taken out on the half-hour by Christopher Halangi, a high tackle that earned the flanker 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
But, down to 14 men, Tonga enjoyed their best spell. They kept Fiji pointless for those 10 minutes while Pierre Hola converted a drop goal to add three points to their own total.
With half-time looming, Rabeni chipped over the top and the ball bounced kindly for Rawaqa to charge through and gather safely for a clear run to the line.
So, at half-time, Fiji were almost there, leading 23-6 and needing just a few more points to put them top of the table.
Stand-in captain Simon Raiwalui and halfback Jacob Rauluni played well under pressure, showing their experience when needed.
In the second spell, the Tongans regrouped well, formed a tight defence and made some promising breaks. But again it was Fiji that scored the tries.
Rauluni forced a turnover on halfway and set Koyamaibole off at a gallop. The huge No.8 made a glorious sight as he sidestepped and surged 40 metres, so nearly reaching the line before passing for Narruhn to score.
At 28-6, Fiji looked the real deal, but they let it slip a couple of times before closing the game. In the 49th minute, Hola scored Tonga’s first try rather too easily as the Fiji defence faltered.
The score remained 28-13 for some 20 minutes, leaving Fiji with everything to do in the last 10 minutes.
Tawake broke the deadlock, making his own break to score his first try of the year.
Four minutes later, vice captain Ligairi found enough space on the left side of Fiji’s 22 to get into full stride, and there was no stopping him. Having scored a brace against the All Blacks last week, Stormin’ Norman zigzagged his way up field to score his second against Tonga.
The Tongans won’t forget that Ligairi punished them last year with a pair at Churchill Park.
With the required winning margin already secure, Satala rounded off a superb day with his 15th try in his 25th Test.
Young Stanley Afeaki then scored a late consolation try for Tonga as Fiji held their breath until the final whistle.
"I feel very proud to be associated with this team," coach Mac McCallion said. "They made me proud today and they made the whole country proud."
Mr Love admitted a hint of jealousy in the quick success that his former Maori team-mate McCallion has enjoyed.
"I take my hat off to Mac for the work he has done with Fiji in a very short time," Mr Love said. "It actually pisses me off quite a bit how well he has done!"
Mr Love explained that Tonga will now take four weeks off before preparing for the repechage.
"At least we’ll be in a good group when we get there," he said. "I fancy us to take out Wales and make the quarter-finals."