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Australia A move to top of Pacific Nations Cup after outclassing Tonga

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by LEON LORD/AFP via Getty Images)

Australia A have done all they can in their bid for a first-ever Pacific Nations Cup title after dispatching Tonga in convincing fashion on Saturday.

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Running out 39-22 winners at Churchill Park in Lautoka, Australia’s second-tier side have gone two points clear at the top of the competition table and await the outcome of Fiji’s clash against Samoa later this afternoon to cement their title-winning status.

Requiring Fiji to beat Samoa, Australia A will be pleased with the way in which they toppled a winless Tonga side that showed plenty of improvements from the previous fortnight of action.

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Why Sam Cane is the starting No 7 and captain for the All Blacks
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Why Sam Cane is the starting No 7 and captain for the All Blacks

Those improvements were seen almost immediately when Tonga struck first to take the early lead by muscling up and driving their way over Australia A’s line with a dominant rolling maul for hooker Sam Moli to score from.

It was an eye-catching start to the game when you consider the ‘Ikale Tahi’s struggles to gain any ascendency up front in weeks gone by, but it was a theme that stayed true for much of the encounter.

However, a penalty from Australia A captain Ryan Lonergan was soon followed by a captivating backline move that was capped off by seven-test Wallabies wing Filipo Daugunu, who soared over in the corner to give the title hopefuls the lead for the first time.

Both teams traded penalties near the end of the first half, but Australia A’s buffer was bolstered in injury time when No 8 Langi Gleeson charged under the posts on the back of a well-worked lineout move instigated by Daugunu and hooker Billy Pollard.

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Gleeson’s try was reflective of Australia A’s first half dominance, which stemmed from a lack of discipline and accuracy on Tonga’s behalf.

Enduring a tough time of things at the scrum, Tonga also suffered out wide as the inexperience of young halves duo William Havili and Manu Paea showed at times, while the ‘Ikale Tahi’s outside backs battled in the backfield.

Their woes were compounded when Australia A midfielder Hamish Stewart finished off a sweeping attacking move that caught Tonga napping in the opening few minutes of the second half.

While they bounced back admirably with a second rolling maul try to Moli, Tonga gave up a fourth try far too easily, allowing Daugunu to stroll on in for a brace of tries after Gleeson wreaked havoc with his physical ball-carrying.

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A third rolling maul try, this time to Moli’s replacement Jay Fonokalafi, proved insignificant to the match’s overall outcome, and a late try to¬†Australia A reserve halfback James Tuttle put the match beyond doubt.

The pressure is now on Samoa to edge Fiji and deny Australia A the Pacific Nations Cup silverware, while Tonga’s focus will now turn to next week’s World Cup qualifier against Hong Kong on the Sunshine Coast.

Australia A 39 (Tries to Filipo Daugunu (2), Langi Gleeson, Hamish Stewart and James Tuttle; 4 conversions and 2 penalties to Ryan Lonergan, conversion to Tane Edmed)

Tonga 22 (Tries to Sam Moli (2) and Jay Fonokalafi; 2 conversions and penalty to William Havili)

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