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Australia A stun Fiji in classy Pacific Nations Cup victory

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Pita Simpson/Getty Images)

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Australia A have bounced back from their Pacific Nations Cup-opening defeat to Samoa to beat Fiji at Churchill Park in Lautoka.

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The 32-18 win is somewhat of a surprise given Fiji’s dominance in their 36-0 drubbing of Tonga in Suva last week, as well as Australia A’s inability to put Samoa away at ANZ National Stadium.

However, Australia A proved too good for the home side in a win that leaves the competition title open for the taking in next weekend’s final round.

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Fiji got the early ascendency when first-five Teti Tela slotted a penalty goal, but was short-lived when Australia A lock Hugh Sinclair crashed over near the quarter-hour mark.

An additional three-pointer to vice-captain Ryan Lonergan edged Australia A ahead by seven points, but a blockbusting piece of play by former All Blacks midfielder Seta Tamanivalu almost levelled things up for Fiji.

Brushing off Australia A fullback Jock Campbell, Tamanivalu cantered home to score his first try for Fiji since switching international allegience under World Rugby’s new laws.

Tela’s missed conversion meant Fiji continued to trail by a margin that was extended when wing Dylan Pietsch was on the receiving end of a stunning offload from standout first-five Ben Donaldson.

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That was enough to put Pietsch, the former sevens star, over in the left-hand corner, but Fiji fought back not long afterwards as Tamanivalu again found himself in the thick of things.

Taking the defensive line on well inside enemy territory, Tamanivalu managed to put his midfield partner and captain Levani Botia over for a well-taken try near the sideline.

Tela was unable to add the extras from the sideline, nor was he accurate from the kicking tee with an injury-time penalty attempt from near halfway, allowing Australia A to take a slender 15-13 lead into half-time.

Seven-test Wallabies wing, and Fijian-born product, Filipo Daugunu bolstered Australia A’s lead with the opening score of the second half, but they were hamstrung by their ill-discipline, which paved the way for Fiji’s third try.

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Giving away about 80 metres via a string of infringements, Australia A were duly punished by lock Api Ratuniyarawa, who carried a hoard of opposition players over the line with him.

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Wayward goal-kicking continued to prove costly for the Fijians, though, as replacement first-five Ben Volavola struggled to convert from decent range.

Leaving six points out on the park, the hosts could have had the lead as the match entered its final quarter, and their task of clinching victory got that much tougher when Australia A became the next team to strike.

Indecisiveness by Volavola and Vinaya Habosi saw the former’s clearing kick charged down inside his own 22, and debutant Australia A lock Jeremy Williams pounced on the loose ball to stroll over the line for a five-pointer.

Lonergan added a conversion and penalty for good measure, and Fiji had no answer as they fell to their first defeat of the year.

The result leaves Samoa at the summit of the Pacific Nations Cup table, three points clear of Australia A and five ahead of Fiji, although all three teams can still claim the title next weekend.

Samoa will all but seal the silverware with a win over Fiji in Lautoka, while the hosts could come out on top if they win with a bonus point and Australia A lose to Tonga.

Australia A, meanwhile, just need to ensure Tonga remain winless and hope Fiji can get one over Samoa.

Australia A 32 (Tries to Hugh Sinclair, Dylan Pietsch, Filipo Daugunu and Jeremy Williams; conversion to Ben Donaldson, conversion and 2 penalties to Ryan Lonergan)

Fiji 18 (Tries to Seta Tamanivalu, Levani Botia and Api Ratuniyarawa; penalty to Teti Tela)

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