Fiji hold new-look Tonga side scoreless in emphatic Pacific Nations Cup win
Fiji have dampened the hype surrounding Tonga’s new all-star cast, pummelling the ‘Ikale Tahi 36-0 in their Pacific Nations Cup clash in Suva.
Much was expected of the new-look Tongan outfit, which boasted former Wallabies star Israel Folau and ex-All Blacks duo Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau, all of whom had become available for the ‘Ikale Tahi under World Rugby’s new eligibility laws.
None of those three could help contain the well-oiled Flying Fijians, though, as the hosts – who had an ex-All Black of their own in the form of debutant midfielder Seta Tamanivalu – kept the visitors scoreless all while running in five tries.
The first of those came in quick succession as lock Tevita Ratuva and wing Jiuta Wainiqolo both dotted down inside the opening 10 minutes, putting their opponents on the back foot as Tonga battled to gain any ascendency due to their faltering set piece.
Their woes were accentuated when hooker Sam Moli threw terrible lineout near the Fijian tryline and handed possession straight back to the hosts, who produced a piece of attacking brilliance to go nearly 100 metres and score through debutant midfielder Kalaveti Ravouvou.
Fekitoa, probably Tonga’s best player, looked to have registered his side’s first try when he crashed over from close range, but referee Ben O’Keeffe denied him a try on ‘Ikale Tahi debut.
Instead, O’Keeffe called a penalty against the Flying Fijians and sent first-five Teti Tela to the sin bin for throwing the ball away.
Even with the numerical advantage, the Tongans struggled to capitalise as their forwards battled to match the physicality of their Fijian counterparts at the set piece and failed to capitalise on the ill-discipline of their opponents.
Things went from bad to worse when Folau hobbled off with an injury near the half-hour mark, leaving debutant first-five William Havili without a much-needed source of experience outside of him as he became prone to his misfiring boot.
A penalty goal to fullback Seta Tuicuvu, kicking in the absence of Tela, gave Fiji a comprehensive 22-0 lead at half-time.
Coming out the gates strongly in the second stanza, Tonga were denied two tries to No 8 Sione Tu’ipulotu and debutant replacement flanker Sione Havili Talitui, firstly for double movement and then for a forward pass.
The ‘Ikale Tahi could feel aggrieved at those disallowed tries – especially Havili Talitui’s non-try, which was dubiously scrubbed out – but they can have no complaints in which the Fijians tore them to shreds to put an exclamation mark on their performance.
Two tries in six minutes, scored by Tuicuvu and Fijian Drua standout and debutant Flying Fijians wing Vinaya Habosi, killed off any faint hope of a Tongan comeback in what was a resounding result for the home team in front of their packed out crowd.
The result lifts Fiji to the top of the Pacific Nations Cup table, one point clear of second-placed Samoa, who earlier recorded a last-gasp win against Australia A at ANZ National Stadium.
Fiji will continue their Pacific Nations Cup campaign against Australia A at Churchill Park next Saturday, the same day in which Tonga will look to turn their fortunes around against Samoa in Lautoka.
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