Fiji Warriors win Pacific Rugby Cup opener
(IRB.COM) The 2008 IRB Pacific Rugby Cup burst into life on Friday when the Fiji Warriors won a thrilling opening match with Tautahi Gold on home soil at Churchill Park in Lautoka.
The Warriors, containing a sprinkling of players who entertained in Fiji colours during Rugby World Cup 2007 in France, survived a late second half fight back to hold on for a 21-19 victory over the Tongan side.
Boosted by a bumper home support of 3,000, the Warriors led throughout a tight encounter that was lit up by some fantastic running rugby, outlining the strides in competitiveness across the IRB funded tournament since its inauguration in 2006.
The Warriors got off to the perfect start, racking up a quick three points through the boot of fly half Waisea Luveniyali after 10 minutes, before winger Timoci Nagusa delighted the home supporters by claiming the honour of scoring the first try of the 2008 tournament at the end of the first quarter. Luveniyali’s conversion gave the Warriors a handy 10-0 lead.
Despite the best efforts of their powerful forwards, Tautahi Gold simply could not get into the game in the first half and they fell further behind when indiscretions gifted Luveniyali the opportunity of two more penalties before the interval, leaving the visitors 16-0 in arrears.
If the first half was about the Warriors creativity and ability to turn pressure into points, the second half was all about Tautahi Gold’s resolve. It was a different character of Tongan team that took to the field after the interval as first hooker Vainga Fangupo and then centre Isileli M Tupou breeched the Warriors defence, which was impregnable in the opening 40 minutes, to reduce the deficit to 16-12.
Shocked by their poor second half start, the Warriors started to claw their way back into the game and responded on 64 minutes with a Rupeni Nasiga try which stretched the lead to a seemingly comfortable nine points, which was the way it stayed until the match entered injury time.
Tautahi Gold were not finished though and came back strongly in the dying moments with wave upon wave of attacks. It was too much for a tired home side to repel, they could not shake off the resurgent advances of the visiting team as scrum half Soane Havea crossed for a try that silenced the home crowd.
Apikotoa’s conversion reduced the deficit to just two points and all 3,000 Fijians in the stadium were left giving their nails a decent working over, willing the referee to blow for full time.
Yet more drama was still to come. Sensing victory, Tautahi Gold pressed once more, and were finally awarded a penalty in the sixth minute of injury time after the Warriors folded in defence.
Apikotoa had the chance to steal victory as he lined up for what would be the last kick of the game. However, the Tongan pushed the ball wide much to the relief of the Warriors and their passionate supporters.
Fiji Warriors: 1. Alefoso Yalayalatabua, 2 Vereniki Sauturaga, 3 Viliame Seuseu, 4 Samuela Anise 5. Mosese Vasuitoga, 6 Rupeni Nasiga, 7 Aca Ratuva, 8 Sakiusa Matadigo 9. Aporosa Vata (Captain) 10. Waisea Luveniyali 11. Patrick Osborne 12. Vuniyani Ratu 13. Saula Radidi 14. Timoci Nagusa 15. Iliesa Keresoni.
Replacements: 16. Viliame Veikoso 17. Isireli Temo 18. Sikeli Donu 19. Wate Vocevoce 20. Waisale Vatuvoka 21. Jonetani Ralulu 22. Taniela Rawaqa.
Tries: Nagusa, Nasiga
Pens: Luveniyali 3
Tautahi Gold: 1. Viliami Kupu 2. Vainga Fangupo 3. Soane Ledger 4. Samiu Ika 5. Petelo Pifileti 6. Atunaisa Fakaosi 7. Lisala Uasi 8. Aleki Taka 9. Soane Tavea 10. Fangatapu Apikotoa (Captain) 11. Vea Paunga 12. Isileli M Tupou 13. Heimuli Pangai 14. Samisoni Pone 15. Sitaleki Luau.
Replacements: 16. Feki Moala 17. Sione Maama 18. Sione N Tonga 19. Tevita Ula 20. Leakona Tovi 21. Semisi Motuafuaka 22. Peni Tokotaha.
Tries: Fangupo, Tupou, Havea
Cons: Apikotoa 2