PNC - Samoa sneak home
Samoa has prevailed to win their opening match of the 2010 ANZ Pacific Nations Cup with a 24-23 victory against Tonga this afternoon in Apia.
In front of a large and vocal crowd, the Samoans posted a three tries to two win over Tonga in slippery and humid conditions. Indeed it was a forward dominated performance – the Samoan forward pack scoring a points decision over their Tongan rivals with a superior scrum in particular. The performance of the forward pack ensured the Samoan team enjoyed a wealth of territory and possession in the first half in particular and it was a stoic defensive effort by Tonga that limited Samoa’s lead to just 10 points to 6 at half time.
Both teams traded penalties in the opening stanza - Tonga opened the scoring with a penalty to fly-half Kurt Morath in the opening minutes before Samoa responded soon after with a penalty to Paul Williams to level the scores at 3-all.
Morath put Tonga back into the lead with a 45metre penalty in the 23rd minute.
The lead was short-lived however with Samoa scoring a sensational try off the restart with halfback Junior Poluleuligaga scoring under the posts. Converted by Lolo Lui - Samoa was back in front 10-6 in the 25th minute.
The Tongan coaching staff would have been relatively pleased to be just 4 points behind at half time given the wealth of possession and territory that was enjoyed by the Samoan team.
Morath kicked his 3rd penalty in the 50th minute to bring the Ikale Tahi back within 1 point. Five minutes later however, Referee Peter Fitzgibbon awarded a penalty try to Samoa after numerous collapsed scrums on the Tongan 5m line. Lui kicked his second conversion to give the Manu Samoa a 17-9 lead.
An intercept try to fullback Vungakoto Lilo turned a promising Samoa attacking opportunity into 7 points for the Tongans. Lilo snatch the ball from a Samoan attack deep in his 22 and sprinted away to score under the posts - not even the fast finishing IRB Sevens Players of the year, Mikaele Pesamino was able to hunt him down in time. With 14 minutes to go it was now a one point ball game - 17-16 to Samoa.
Local hero Pesamino brought the loud home crowd to their feet with a try in the 70th minute - after a simple move from the back of a 5m scrum. Slick hands down the blindside ensured Pesamino a small corridor and that's all he needed to touch down in the corner. Lui converted from touch to give Samoa a handy 8 point lead - 24-16.
Tonga's second try was another length of the field effort against the run of play - this time to winger Alaska Taufa who finished off yet another counter attack from deep within their 22m line to once again bring the Ikale Tahi back within 1 point with only a few minutes remaining but unfortunately for the Tongans they simply ran out of time to steal the show.
Samoan Captain Mahonri Schwalger was happy with the win and particularly happy with how the Samoan sevens players fitted in: “Sevens is such a different game these days and so we were interested in how they were going to adjust to fifteens but I’m pretty happy with how the Sevens boys played today” he said.
After the first round of the 2010 ANZ Pacific Nations Cup, Fiji are on top with 4 points with a superior points differential to Samoa, also on 4 points. Tonga is in 3rd spot having earned a bonus point and Japan are currently in 4th.
Round 2 of the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup takes place next weekend with Fiji taking on Tonga and Samoa taking on Japan.