Four teams battled it out in Suva over three rounds for the 2017 World Rugby Pacific Challenge title. The round-robin tournament took place on 10, 14 and 18 March at the ANZ Stadium in the Fijian capital with Fiji Warriors remaining unbeaten to defend the title won last year.
On the last day Fiji Warriors and Junior Japan both recorded bonus-point wins as the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2017 came to a high-scoring conclusion at the ANZ Stadium in Suva. Junior Japan doubled their tally of wins from the 2016 tournament with a 42-33 victory over Tonga A, before Fiji Warriors overcame Samoa A 48-25 to finish with a perfect record in the tournament. Fuala Makisi became the second Japanese number eight after Tevita Tatafu in round one to score a hat-trick, while Fiji’s impressive Lepani Raiyala doubled his overall tally for the tournament with another brace.
Round 1 - ResultsJunior Japan 34 Samoa A 31Fiji Warriors 38 Tonga A 30
Round 2 - Results
Samoa A 22 Tonga A 30
Fiji Warriors 39 Junior Japan 16
Round 3 - Results
Tonga A 33 Junior Japan 42
Fiji Warriors 48 Samoa A 25
VIEW FINAL STANDINGS>>
Fiji Warriors went into the final game of the round robin tournament knowing that the title was theirs unless they drew a blank against Samoa A and lost by more than 30 points in the process.
With half an hour of the first half gone it was still extremely tight between the sides, Fiji leading 10-6 thanks to unconverted tries from full-back Raiyala and hooker Samuela Suguturaga with Patrick Faapale kicking two penalties in reply for Samoa A, the second coming while the home side were down to 14 men following John Stewart’s sin-binning.
Tight-head prop Kalivati Tawake’s converted try on 43 minutes triggered a frenetic start to the second half where each side scored two tries apiece within a seven-minute period. Winger Danny Tusitala was next to cross as Samoa A refused to give up the fight but the missed conversion from Faapale meant they now trailed by 16 points.
When Jonetani Ralulu turned the five points from centre Eroni Vasiteri’s try into seven with his third kick from five attempts, the game looked lost for Samoa A. However, they refused to throw the towel in and hit back through number eight Tietie Tuimauga, and this time Faapale’s conversion was successful.
It took only five more minutes, though, for the Warriors to reassert their authority on the game with a try for skipper Mosese Voka. No further points were scored, despite a second yellow card for the Warriors, until deep into injury-time when Samoan replacement Nuu Lene was followed over the whitewash by Raiyala.
"To lead this bunch of boys and defend the title Is a great honour, and I’d like to thank the fans and family and friends for supporting us,” said Voka.
While Fiji were left to celebrate back-to-back Pacific Challenge titles and their seventh overall, Samoa A captain Faapale was understandably disappointed with the way the tournament panned out, earlier losses to Junior Japan and Tonga A amounting to a bottom-place finish.
“Although the scoreline says it was a one-sided match, it was a hard-fought battle and I am sure Fiji would agree with that as well. To be on the wrong end of three straight losses is obviously not ideal and we have to look at ourselves as a team and regroup. It is very disappointing for us.”
Junior Japan came out on top in an 11-try extravaganza of attacking rugby to finish second in the table overall. Tonga A blitzed their way into a 12-0 lead inside the first eight minutes thanks to a brace of tries from centre Paki Afu, the second converted by full-back James Faiva.
Stung into action, Junior Japan responded with a three-try salvo in a 10-minute period between the 17th and 27th minute, number eight Fuala Makisi crossing twice either side of a score for captain and hooker Kosuke Horikoshi. Scrum-half Naoto Saito was on the mark with all three conversions to make the score 21-12.
Tonga were next to cross the whitewash through openside Frederick Kei, but centre Shogo Nakano ensured Junior Japan had the final word of the first half by scoring their bonus-point try just before the interval. It took 14 minutes of the second half before the next scoring play, Nakano crossing for his second of the match only for Samoa A to cancel out the seven points through a converted try of their own, number eight Topui Sekona supplying the finish on this occasion.
When hooker and captain Sione Lolohea added to the brace he scored in the opening round defeat to Fiji Warriors, Tonga were back to within two points of their opponents at 33-35 with 14 minutes to go. However, Junior Japan closed the game out shortly afterwards when Makasi completed his hat-trick and Saito added the extras.
Sunday March 19, 2017 2:16PM