Fiji lose but claim Punjas Series
Story and Photo: www.fijirugby.com
Saturday, 19 August 2011
Churchill Park, Lautoka
Fiji 20 (10)
Tries: Rupeni Nasiga, Leone Nakarawa Con: Waisea Luveniyali (2) Pen: Luveniyali (2)
Tonga 32 (11)
Tries: Vungakoto Lilo, Fetuu Vainikolo, Alipate Fatafehi Con: Karl Morath Pen: Morath (5)
Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)
Kick Off: 4:30 PM
Fiji lost the battle but won the war as reserve lock Leone Nakarawa scored with the final play of the game to swing the overall points differential back in Fiji’s favour and help them claim the Punjas Series. In the end despite going down 32-20 the Flying Fijians claimed the Series by a greater differential of a mere three points over the two games.
It was an impressive performance by the visitors as they overwhelmed Fiji upfront while out wide centre Alipate Fatafehi and winger Fetuu Vainikolo proved difficult to contain. However, it took 20 minutes for the game’s first score and it came from the lethal boot of Tongan flyhalf Kurt Morath with a well struck penalty.
On the 22nd minute winger Vainikolo split open the Fiji defense in midfield and fed an unmarked Vungakoto Lilo, who had enough space to beat the despairing dive of Michael Tagicakibau to claim the first try. Uncharacteristically the conversion was missed by Morath.
Fiji cut the deficit to five when Luveniyali was successful with a penalty in the 28th minute. Then four minutes later Fiji were on level terms when the impressive Netani Talei gathered a poor 22 metre Tonga drop out and raced down the near sideline to feed Rupeni Nasiga who crashed over to score his second try in successive games for the Flying Fijians.
Luveniyali’s touchline conversion meant Fiji were ahead for the first and, what was to be, only time in the match. It was a lead that lasted less than five minutes as number right Sisa Koyamaibole was yellow carded and, from the ensuing penalty Morath made amends for the earlier missed conversion as he nailed the penalty to give Tonga the halftime lead 10-11.
The second half began as the first half had ended with a third Morath penalty followed by a fourth in the 44th minute to stretch Tonga’s lead to seven points. Fiji reacted by attempting to get their backline in motion, however a promising move in midfield broke down when the ball was dropped and then kicked through by the Tongans. On hand to pounce on the loose ball as it bobbled over the try line was Vainikolo.
As the Tongan forwards began to exert their dominance in the game Fiji wilted and sustained pressure upon the Fiji goal line was rewarded with a Fatafehi try in the 65th minute as Tonga now led 29-13. To claim the Punjas Series the Tongans were required to win by 16 or more points and when Morath struck home his fifth penalty it looked as if Tonga were home and dusted.
However, deep into injury time Talei burst through the Tongan defense only to be pulled down short of the try line. From the ensuing play Fiji had the Tongans working overtime in defense and, with the last play of the match, Nakarawa finally crashed over to snatch back the Punjas Series for Fiji, even though the game was lost.