PNC- Thunder, lighting, monsoon rains and rugby colide in Fiji.
Thunder, monsoon like rains and a swimming pool covering the ground greeted these 2 teams in Lautoka today. There was a bit of confusion as to whether the game would even start at all, the extreme weather saw both captains and the Ref check it out the situation to see if it was safe enough. With a delay of 10 minutes the bumper crowd braving the chilly rain cheered their hearts out as the all clear was given for the test match. This roar was flowing around and the teams responded with an aggressive Haka and Cibi challenges.
There was plenty of rain, but this did not at all put a damper on the entertaining game. The Maori were using the big men and kicking well for territory, this approach is sometimes dicey when you play attacking runners like Fiji has, but the chasers did hunt well and few gaps appeared. Liam Messam was in everything, popping up for some powerful runs and this work-rate provided real spark for the Maori. Boasting an impressive blend of ex All Blacks and loads of super 14 players the Maori boys looked ominous. Fiji met this head on and huge hit’s, dedication and cover defence ensured a close game right till the final whistle.
Right before half time the Fijians were on hot attack in the Maori 22, the ball was turned over and all seemed lost until a clearing kick was charged down and grunty Sireli Naqelevuki pounced for the opening try. The stadium went into a frenzy and everyone could sniff an upset here as the home team grew in confidence. The half time break saw a shift and the Maori came out with some varied attacks in the backs, they were lighter and took the darty cutting angles approach. In contrast the Fijian inside centres used their size and at times carved inroads into NZ territory, Semisi Naevo and the tight 5 battled with all their might and it was 2 moments of class from Jason Eaton that drew blood for NZ. He pulled off an amazing diving tackle in cover defence to deny Fiji a try, moments later he burst through a line out to claim a bobbling ball and crash over the line.
This game was far from over with this and the home team chucked everything at the Maori line, with Piri Weepu on directing the forwards slowed down and controlled the tempo. Torpedo style Islanders hit the rucks hard and did turn ball over to have a chance, the last 3 minutes were deafening as 18,000 people cheered their mighty boys on towards the line. The Maori held out for a character win, Fiji gave it all and had a few chances to seal the win, but no such luck today.
If you didn’t know you had a heart before this game you surely will now, this match had it all, emotions were racing and the ticker was alive soaking it up. The players and the crowd deserve a massive pat on the back from today. In the end the Maori got home 11-7.