PRC - Warriors create history
The Fiji Warriors have created history to become the first team to successfully defend an IRB Pacific Rugby Cup title with a come-from-behind 26-17 win of the Fiji Barbarians this afternoon in Suva.
In a tense final the Fiji Warriors forward pack simply outclassed their eager countrymen, who, with just 14 minutes to go had a 17-6 lead and seemed well on the way to repeating their first-round upset win over the Warriors.
A tighthead scrum in the final five minutes proved to be the defining moment of the game and capped off a dominant display by the Warriors pack. The tighthead scrum resulted in a try to the tournamentís leading point scorer, Taniela Rawaqa, to give the Warriors the lead for the first time in nearly 50 minutes of rugby with just 5 minutes remaining in the match. A second try on full time ensured that the Warriors became the first team in the 5 year history of the PRC to defend the title.
The Warriors choked their younger countrymen out of the match through a superior scrum and kicking game. The composure of five eighth Jonetani Ralulu, who kept the Barbarians under pressure with a deft kicking game, was a feature of the second-half performance of the defending champions.
The Warriors opened up the scoring in the 6th minute with a penalty to fullback Taniela Rawaqa in the 6th minute.
Opting for the quick tap instead of a shot at goal when a penalty was awarded in the 20th minute, the Barbarians had the Warriors on the backfoot defensively and found themselves with the numbers advantage. Quick hands resulted in a try to William Saukuru. Converted from out wide by Jaoji Dakuvula, the Barbarians took a 7-3 lead midway through the first half.
A second penalty to Rawaqa brought the Warriors back within one point, 6-7, with 5 minutes remaining in the half. The halftime score of 7-6 was the first time in the tournament the Barbarians had gone into the sheds in the lead.
A penalty to Dakuvula in the 10th minute of the second half took the Barbarians to a 4 point lead - 10-6.
The Barbarians' second try came through replacement centre Joe Nasilisili. The Barbarians were awarded a series of penalties and rather than take a shot at goal, they chose the quick tap to eventually give them, yet again, a numbers advantage allowing Nasilisili to sneak through some desperate scramble defence and score. Dakuvula's conversion gave the Barbarians a 17-6 lead with 14 minutes to go.
Rawaqa's third penalty closed the gap to 8 point with 9 minutes to go. Barbarians 17-9.
A second penalty in as many minutes to the Warriors closed the gap further to 5 points, Barbarians 17-12.
A tighthead scrum was the foundation of the Warriors' first try of the match, scored by Rawaqa from the ensuing backline attack. Rawaqa converted his try from the sideline to give his team a 19-17 lead with just 4 minutes remaining.
A try on full time to replacement centre Paula Karatu secured a historic victory for the Warriors. Rawaqa once again converted from touch to give the Warriors a 26-17 victory.
Warriors coach Inoke Male was understandably delighted with the win. "After having 8 players drafted into the Flying Fijians I told the boys they really had to play their hearts out today. I told them that this was the stepping stone to the PNC and the Wallabies tour. They really played well today and I am very proud of them" he said.
"Losing to them in the first round was a big motivation for us. We were coming back from a good win against the Reds (in the last round)and so we were feeling good in the lead-up to today's game" he added.
"I think our composure and our control won us the game today. I thought Jonetani Ralulu played very well for us and Taniela Rawaqa came back from a shaky first half. All the boys really played their part today and it was a team effort" Male said.