VenueTeufaiva Stadium, Nuku'alofa
Kick Off Time
12:00pm (Local), Saturday, 13 June 2009
For the last 3 seasons Tonga have had the edge over Fiji, today the tide turned and Fiji exploded to an emphatic win. The match was full of action, the lead changed hands many times and the big crowd got their moneys worth with a feast of rugby.
Right from the outset the visiting team knew today would be hard, the coach and players had a tense look in their eyes that they knew a huge challenge was about to be fired at them. It didn’t take long for this to solidify as Tonga notched up a try from the first movement of the match. This got the crowd singing and dancing and a feeling of jitters passed through the Fijians.
On a dry and dusty surface a battle commenced, big men flew into bigger men and each tackle was heard and savored by the onlookers. Crunch after crunch was met with ferocious ripping and mauling in the tight zones of the forwards. At times men were isolated and looked like they would be turned, but massive power was shown and the ball retention was very high in the first 20 mins. Tonga won the initial yards battle and big number 12 Epi looked ominous and was constantly getting over the gain line.
Young Taniel Rawaqa left his kicking boots at Nadi airport and was off the radar a little today, this didn’t deter the Fiji teams spirit and they mounted heavy raids into Tonga real estate.
In the final 15 of the first half the match opened like the red sea, men with gas were given space and the ball was darting from one end to the other. In peculiar circumstances it was the front row men that were rewarded with tries. Fiji hooker Sunia Koto must have thought he had 12 on his back not 2 as he sidestepped and ran like the wind for a fine try. It is not often the so-called fat boys get glory and the smiles of doing so were priceless.
Tonga was under a heap of pressure and attempted to clear from a 5 meter scrum, the ball was charged down and flew straight to the waiting arms and non believing mind of prop Viliame Seuseu, he gathered and simply placed the ball on the grass for another 5 points for Fiji, it also registered the easiest test try in the last 400 years.
In a true show of spirit every time Fiji looked like they were flying away with this match, the Tonga side struck back. They were stung just before half time, but in the first 3 mins of the second half Tonga let the steel in the forward pack grind out a comeback try. Fiji’s lead seemed good, then it was pegged back and the thought of here we go again must have been ringing in Illy Tabua’s mind.
In reflection and dissection on the plane ride home he shared his thoughts. “I just kept telling the boys to trust the process, play our game and the rewards will come.” “People worry about history too much, but it is today’s sacrifices that make tomorrows news and current history” He went on to say that he is very pleased with the match today and that he assures us that come kickoff against the Junior All Blacks on Thursday that we will see the best of Fiji.
In a 30-man game it is hard to pick out individuals, but today it was two local men that shinned in the Pacific Rugby Cup that stood out. Playing in the important and pivotal role of number 10 for Fiji, Alipate Tani had a blinder. Every time the ball flew his way it was as if time went slow, he is gifted and mature and today he was like a man with a TV remote at home as he controlled proceedings. Be it unloading, doing the hard grunt into nasty tackles, or backing himself to hammer down and take a gap, he showed the full set of skills this afternoon. In the end it was his try in the 81st minute that sealed the Fiji victory. The other man that took a massive stride up from the PRC was openside Malaki Volau, he was hunting and scavenging for every scrap of ball. Up against Nilli Latu he earned his test status today in great style.
Fiji now are on beloved home soil for the remainder of the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup, momentum is in their favour and so will be the support of the all important home crowd. Illy tabua said “We are off to a great start, one that has us filled with confidence, now we need to apply ourselves on the field and do the hard work with our mind and bodies to get the reward we want”.