PRC- Upolu stay unbeaten, but just!
In an absolutely cracker game between Upolu Samoa and the Fiji Warriors it came down to the last second, then up stepped Roger Warren to seal the 23-21 winning deal.
In a top drawer encounter 2 of the heavyweights in the PRC have fought to the end in Lautoka-Fiji this evening. Played in a fierce but fair manner, skills a plenty were unleashed. This high combat play did take its toll with two long injury breaks, however after play resumed it was back to full speed and denting each other.
From the early stages in a breathless encounter, it was clear that the visitors' fly half Roger Warren would have a big say in the match. The gifted number 10 chipped ahead, regained off a deflection and crossed for a try after 12 minutes for an early Samoan lead.
Fijian centre Ravai Fatiaki pulled back three points for the Warriors and a messy period ensued, in which Warriors prop Alefoso Yalayalatabua and Upolu lock Timothy Nelson were both yellow carded.
The Fijians managed to restore some order to their game and Ropate Ratu's converted try put them into a five-point lead, but Warren's penalty goal deep into first half extra time punished indiscipline to cut their lead to 10-8.
After the break the Fijians responded better to the barrage of substitutions made by both coaches. Alipate Tani kicked a cool penalty goal and when wing Apisalome Waqatabu scored a fine try they led 18-8 on 67 minutes and looked to be well on course for victory. It was as if they had gone into autopilot thinking the game was in the bag. Problem number 1 came along in the form of prolific try scoring machine Afa Aiono. After along passage of pick & drive attacks, he pounced over to make it game on again.
Problem 2 was the fact that the Samoan’s have won before and know what is needed. They set about this task, never gave up and got there. The visitors needed a moment of inspiration and on 74 minutes it came in style. The ball was pushed to the left and players got hit in huge tackles, but unloaded for a fine try for team mate Esera Lauina. Warren's conversion then put the Samoans ahead in what was becoming a dramatic finale.
Alipate Tani's nerveless penalty looked to have snatched back the spoils for the Fijians at 21-20, but Upolu were to have the last laugh as Warren nailed a penalty just before the final hooter to win the game and ensure Upolu's 100 per cent record remains intact.
The Fijian’s may have been grinning a bit too much thinking the win was theirs, they made one error 40 meters out and gave the visitors a sniff. Roger Warren did the rest, asked after the match what was going through his head he said, “ Well I was just trying to stay calm, I gave a quick prayer and asked the Lord to help me do this & he did it”
Upolu Samoa now have booked a home final, the grit they showed tonight will make them a hard prospect on their home turf. They will be without a couple of stars that now head to London for the IRB Sevens, but the side will be confident they can pull anything off.
One of the most notable aspects of the Fijians game is the tackle area, in recent years they have usually come off second best in the tackle zone & mauling. This season they are reaping the rewards of the High Performance Unit work; these chiseled men are dominating this area now and national coach Illy Tabua will pleased. The Fiji coach will be cought in a bit of happy-sad though, he will like seeing the steel growing in the Fijian play, but sad they are continually not shutting a game out when they have a handy lead.