PNC - Maori outmuscle Tonga
The game was played in front of a crowd of about 2000 to 3000 people in cool but still conditions.
In the first half, the Maori dominated possession and territory and were seldom in their own half. In spite of numerous backline movements, they were unable to penetrate because of the strong and accurate Tongan defence. Epeti Taione and Hudson Tonga’uiha at second five and centre were excellent in the defensive line.
Slow recycling compounded the problem in the post-tackle situations with captain Tongan Nili Latu and Hale T Pole showing their experience.
After they had repelled attack after attack, the Maori’ only reward was a penalty from Callum Bruce, the Tongan team gained field position after a poor kick return from the Tongan kick-off. From a succession of plays they were awarded a penalty and, against the run of play, Fangatapu Apikotoa kicked a penalty resulting in the teams go into the half-time break 3 all.
At the beginning of the second, half the roles were reversed, with Tonga initially dominating possession and attacking using pick-and-go, the rolling maul and one out past options as they settled into a game plan that made best use of their skills.
This pressure, enabled Fangatapu Apikotoa to kick two further penalties. However, by persisting with their own game plan the Maori continued to move the ball wide, and eventually gaps were created in the Tongan defence. By attempting to penetrate wide out, and by recycling the ball quickly, which would seem to be that way the Maori will achieve results in future games, they were able to move the ball the same way again, and with good support play from the Thomas Waldron, Liam Messan and Tanerau Latimer, in conjunction with the backs, Perry Weepu and Tamiti Ellison were able to score tries both converted by Callum Bruce..
Given that this was the first game in the tournament the Maori eventually showed that by moving the ball they will be a very effective unit. So long as the recycling at the post-tackle takes place quickly this will complement their ability to, at least, win their own scrums and line-outs and to run in support when the game opens up.
To their credit, the Tongan team was stable at scrum and lineout and competitive at the post-tackle for much of the game. They were able to play within the skill set that the team has with a strong driving forward play, solid defence and their ability, when they do gain possession, to get field position from which they can launch attacks close in.
New Zealand Maori Callum Bruce 2 Penalties and 2 Conversions, Tamiti Ellison and Piri Weepu tries.
Tonga Fengatapu Apikotoa 3 Penalties