Fiji survive late Tongan surge
The FMF Flying Fijians staved off a terrific fightback from Ikale Tahi Tonga to win their RWC qualifier 24-19 in Nuku'alofa on Saturday. Fiji had led 24-0 with 16 minutes to play after two tries from Mosese Luveitasau, one from Maikeli Nadridri plus one penalty try. Norman Ligairi's try-saving tackle in the corner deep into injury-time prevented a fourth Tongan try and possible draw or defeat.
Though Tonga dominated the early play, they were unable to put any points on the board, and slowly Fiji took control to score three tries before the break.
The first two came from outstanding breaks from fly-half Jack Prasad, who dodged and weaved his way through the gaps before setting up Mosese Luveitasau and then Maikeli Nadridri to touch down in the corners.
With half-time approaching, Prasad chipped over the top for his wingers to chase and South African referee Jonathan Kaplan awarded a penalty try for Tonga wing Seti Kiole's challenge off the ball.
Fiji led 19-0 at the interval.
Early in the second half, Tonga skipper Aleki Lutui was sin-binned, and whilst off the field, Fiji scored their fourth try. Little kicked for the corner, and good pressure from a line-out drive and quick recycling down the short side from Mojee Rauluni set up a second try for Luveitasau.
A number of young Fijians stood tall in the typically heated atmosphere of Teufaiva Stadium. Prasad probably had his best match to date in a Fiji jersey; 19-year-old No.8 Jone Qovu hardly put a step wrong and kept piling through on the Tongans; and Jo Tora at fullback also did an admirable job.
Making a strong comeback this year has been centre Epeli Ruivadra, whose workrate in this game alongside Seremaia Bai gave Fiji a very solid backline.
But in the last quarter, Fiji tired noticeably and the hosts almost pulled off what would have been a remarkable win.
Good teamwork from the Tongan pack took play up to the Fiji try-line before Benhur Kivalu spilled the ball whilst trying to touch down. Moments later, lock Mosese Makasini forced his way over after good control at the scrum.
In the 78th minute, Lutui touched down in almost identical fashion; and in injury time Vili Ma'asi completed a great move from impressive flanker Ueleni Fono to put Tonga within five points.
As Fiji fumbled their way through the closing minutes, replacement fly-half Siaosi Taufa charged onto a loose ball and looked certain to score before Ligairi pulled off the tackle of the year, swinging the Tongan into touch as the crowd celebrated prematurely.
The defeat consigns Tonga to third place in the RWC 2007 Oceania qualifiers, meaning they must win through the repechage to get a berth in Pool A alongside the top qualifier from Oceania.