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Manu Samoa open Pacific Nations Cup with thrilling win over Australia A

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

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A last-minute try to debutant wing Nigel Ah Wong has ensured Manu Samoa a Pacific Nations Cup-opening win over Australia A in Fiji.

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With the match tied up in the closing moments of the tournament-opener, Ah Wong secured victory for Samoa by pinching an intercept from one-test Wallabies midfielder Lalakai Foketi inside the Australian red zone.

Strolling over untouched, Ah Wong’s second try of the contest handed Samoa an upset 31-26 victory over an Australia A outfit that featured five capped Wallabies in its match day squad.

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That experience proved worthless in the opening few minutes at ANZ National Stadium in Suva, though, as ill-discipline plagued Australia A badly.

Samoa duly made them pay when Perpignan hooker Seilala Lam crashed over from the last of numerous lineout raid deep inside Australian territory.

Samoa’s buffer was extended when Ah Wong sailed over in the left-hand corner, at which point veteran referee Jaco Peyper went to his pocket and yellow carded Australian lock Ryan Smith due to his side’s repeated infringements.

Trailing by 12 points with a man in the sin bin, Australia A needed to be the next side to strike in order to keep their hopes alive.

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They did just that when two-test Wallabies flanker Fraser McReight fortuitously pounced on a loose ball that Manu Samoa couldn’t retain inside their own in-goal area.

McReight’s effort was cancelled out when midfielder D’Angelo Leuila scored Samoa’s third try in dubious circumstances near the half-hour mark, allowing the Pacific Island nation to take a 19-7 lead into the break.

Back to a full complement of players in the second half, Australia A struck twice within the space of five minutes to pull level.

Captain and halfback Ryan Lonergan was the first to go over in the 52nd minute, and he was followed by McReight, who showed plenty of fortitude to chase the ball down in an empty Samoan backfield and score.

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The 23-year-old Reds star’s two-try showing capped off a strong performance that is sure to grab the attention of Wallabies boss Dave Rennie.

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With both sides level at 19-all, there was all to play for in the match’s final 10 minutes, which exploded into life when reserve halfback Jonathan Taumateine opportunistically scurried away from the back of a faulty scrum to put Samoa back in front.

Australia A responded just minutes later when a scintillating piece of attacking play resulted in a try to Taumateine’s opposite James Tuttle, who cantered in under the posts to make the scoreline 26-all.

That, however, was as close as Australia A got to victory, as the following restart saw Foketi’s overeagerness with ball in hand fatally punished by Ah Wong, whose late scoring exploits gave Samoa an early lead on the Pacific Nations Cup table.

Samoa will continue their campaign against Tonga in Lautoka next weekend, while Australia A will look to bounce back against Fiji at Churchill Park in a week’s time.

Manu Samoa 31 (Tries to Seilala Lam, Nigel Ah Wong (2), D’Angelo Leuila and Jonathan Taumateine; 2 conversions to Rodney Iona)

Australia A 26 (Tries to Fraser McReight (2), Ryan Lonergan and James Tuttle; 2 conversions to Lonergan, conversion to Reece Hodge)

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