Tonga have finished their Pacific Nations Cup campaign with a 33-23 victory over Canada at Churchill Park in Lautoka, Fiji on Friday.
The power evident in the ‘Ikale Tahi’s game proved to be too much for the Canucks to handle, with all five of Tonga’s tries coming off the back of some strong ball-carrying and a confrontational style of play.
Tonga got underway strongly with a try to fullback David Halaifonua inside the first seven minutes, who took full advantage of an 8-9 play down the blindside channel from a scrum five metres outside of the Canadian tryline.
Halfback and vice-captain Sonatane Takulua landed the conversion from distance, but the North Americans hit back about 10 minutes later through the boot of Gordon McRorie, who landed a penalty from 25 metres out right in front of the sticks.
The Tongans then extended their lead through some superb inter-linking play, which stemmed from near their own 22 metre mark.
Capitalising on the dry, hard track under the Fijian sun, a number of good carries got them into the opposition red zone, and after some sustained pressure on the Canadian defensive line, it was the left wing Viliame Lolohea who went crashing over near the posts.
It took only five more minutes for their third try to be scored, with Stade Francais midfielder Malietoa Hingano punishing Canada for an overthrown lineout thanks to his clean pair of heels to outpace the lacklustre defenders.
Takulua missed the conversion, which proved to be his only missed kick at goal, and Canada were given some consolation before half-time as wing Jeff Hassler scooted over in the corner after star halfback Phil Mack bolted down the blindside from a lineout deep inside enemy territory.
Down 19-8 at the break, Canada’s chances of overturning the deficit took a hit when reserve prop Latu Talakai used his hulking frame to crash over just two minutes into the second half.
Despite an improved showing in the second stanza by Canada – which saw them dot down three more times through substitute Pat Parfrey, veteran speedster DTH van der Merwe and Hassler, who bagged himself a brace – a deserved try to Tongan No. 8 Sione Vailinu put the game to bed with little over 10 minutes remaining.
The Canadians’ weak defence was seemingly the downfall of Kingsley Jones’ side, which struggled to contain the abrasive offence that Tonga threw at them throughout the encounter.
McRorie’s goal kicking will also be a concern for the world’s 21st-ranked side, with the pivot missing four of his five attempts at goal.
The loss means Canada finish the Pacific Nations Cup winless and at the bottom of Pool B with only one point to their name.
It also leaves them with just one win from seven tests in 2019, and with just one more test against the USA and two further clashes against Leinster and the BC All-Stars between now and the World Cup, there is very limited time for the 1991 quarter-finalists to resurrect their form.
As for Tonga, the win is their first of the year following defeats to Samoa and Japan over the past fortnight, although they too remain at the bottom of their pool with five points.
The result leaves Toutai Kefu’s men in good stead for their upcoming warm-up matches against the Western Force, Fiji and the All Blacks over the coming month before their World Cup campaign kicks off against England in Sapporo on September 22.
Canada, meanwhile, will begin their tournament against Italy in Fukuoka on September 26.
Tonga 33 (Tries to David Halaifonua, Viliame Lolohea, Malietoa Hingano, Latu Talakai and Sione Vailanu; 3 conversions to Sonatane Takulua, conversion to Latiume Fosita)
Canada 23 (Tries to Jeff Hassler (2), Pat Parfrey, DTH van der Merwe; penalty goal to Gordon McRorie)
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