Fiji has beaten Samoa at Apia Park in Samoa to defend its World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup title. The Flying Fijians outscored the hosts five tries to one despite trailing at the interval by 14-16. Fiji scrum-half Henry Seniloli was a standout scoring a hat-trick of tries.
Indeed Fiji started off the better and scored after just a few minutes to take an early lead through a converted try to scrum-half Senioli. However, Samoa with the breeze at their backs came fighting back and some enterprising play from a quick tap penalty saw Captain David Lemi score a try in the left corner. The Tusi Pisi conversion levelled the score.
Fiji responded with a wonderful counter-attack with fullback Timoci Nagusa prominent and Senioli crossed for his second and suddenly it was 14-7 Fiji. However Samoa pressed and pressure led to Fijian ill-discipline and Samoa fly-half Pisi kicking three penalties to give his side a 16-14 lead at the break.
The rain arrived at half-time but it did not phase Fiji who unleashed a fifteen-man game that stretched Samoa wide. The tactics worked and in the damp Fiji scored three more tries through Senioli, Jale Vatubua and Leone Nakarawa. Fiji fly-half Ben Volavola was immaculate with the boot kicking five conversions and a penalty.
Fiji’s win also dashed Samoa’s hope of qualifying as Oceania 2 for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
RWC 2019 qualification has also been on the line in the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup (PNC). The cumulative points from the 2016 and 2017 PNC tournaments have been used to determine which of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga would claim the two available Oceania qualifying spots.
Samoa’s loss without a bonus point means Tonga who beat Samoa in Round 1 of this years PNC and who gained a bonus point against Fiji last week have qualified as Oceania 2.
Fiji had already qualified for RWC 2019 as Oceania 1 before the match in Apia courtesy of an unbeaten 2016 PNC campaign and a 14-10 win over Tonga in Round 2 of the 2017 PNC last week.
Fiji coach John McKee said after the victory, “It was a great win and I think our bench was great and it showed in the second half. We were too narrow in the first half and we gave away penalties that kept Tonga in the game. We are proud to have defended our PNC title. It is also our fourth Test win in a row and I am told that is a record for Fiji.”
“Of course we have also qualified for RWC 2019 and we will now focus on that. This is a talented group and we have some younger talent emerging also. I believe this squad can improve further and our aim will be to make the quarter-finals in 2019.
“It is an ambitious goal as RWC is incredibly hard but you have to be ambitious to succeed,” added McKee.
Samoa coach Alama Ieremia was very disappointed with the result, “We had a good first half but we knew we had to get a lead as we had the wind in the first half. We went into the break ahead but we made too many errors in the second half and Fiji capitalised on them. Fiji deserved the victory and we congratulate them.”
“We really wanted to win for the country and the boys tried really hard. I guess it is a painful lesson but the young squad will hopefully learn from it and we can take the experience forward as we do have a second change at RWC qualification.
“We have to play home and away against Europe 2 in the next stage of qualification. Some say it is a silver lining as we may end up in an easier pool but to be honest that is little consolation tonight. We will regroup and I am sure the squad will do the country proud in the future.”
Fiji 38 (Henry Seniloli 3, Jale Vatubua, Leone Nakarawa tries; Ben Volavola 5 cons, 1 pen) Samoa 16 (David Lemi try; Tusi Pisi 3 pens, 1 con)