Fiji Warriors booked their place in the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2016 final with a commanding 44-14 defeat of Junior Japan, while Samoa A shutout Tonga A to win 50-0 at the ANZ Stadium in Suva.
The Warriors now have 10 points from two matches, making it impossible for them to be overhauled and denied a place in the title decider on 21 March. Samoa A sit second with five points, one above Junior Japan, with Tonga A yet to open their account.
Junior Japan, who like their hosts had won their opening match on Tuesday, had the first opportunity to open the scoring but full-back Ryoto Nakamura missed his early penalty attempt and it was instead the Warriors who went ahead with second-row Mataiasi Ucutabua’s 17th-minute try.
Fly-half Serupepeli Vularika had kicked the conversion but then found himself sin-binned for 10 minutes. Within a minute of his return the Warriors had their second try through Ucutabua (main picture) to lead 14-0 with the new point values being trialled in the Pacific Challenge this year.
That lead quickly grew to 28-0 with centre Saimoni Tuilaucala and then second-row Mesulame Kunavula touching down on the stroke of half-time as the Warriors stamped their authority on a Junior Japan side, many of whom are under the age of 20.
Victory dedicated to Cyclone Winston victims
Within a minute of the restart that lead grew to 36-0 after winger Necani Wakaya and it looked ominous for Junior Japan, but they refused to buckle and scored the next try through hooker Daigo Hashimoto.
With both sides ringing the changes, Fiji Warriors found themselves down to 13 players when first number eight John Dyer was yellow-carded and then replacement prop Joeli Veitayaki sent-off by referee Fa’avae Neru.
Junior Japan were awarded a penalty try, worth eight points under the new law trial, but the Warriors steadied the ship through replacement Kitione Ratu kicking a penalty before scoring his side’s fifth try of the match in the final minute.
Two-try hero Ucutabua dedicated the win to the victims of Cyclone Winston, but admitted they have work to do ahead of their next match against Tonga A.
“There was a lack of concentration from the boys, leading by that margin and it led to some indiscipline. We will go back to the drawing board now and see what we can do against Tonga A.”
The day’s opening match in the Fijian capital had seen Samoa A bounce back from their opening day loss to the Warriors with a strong performance, determined to put on a show for the crowd and make the most of their strong ball-runners.
Winger Meki Magele opened the scoring in the fourth minute and Samoa A didn’t look back as further scores from scrum-half David Osofua and fly-half Danny Tusitala making it 20-0 at half-time. The margin could have been greater had Tusitala not missed two conversions and a penalty attempt.
Samoa A had wrapped up the bonus point after eight minutes of the second half thanks to flanker Oneone Faafou and by the hour mark had another try through centre Isaia Petelo as they made the Tongans pay for their problems in the set-pieces and with ball-handling.
Number eight Greg Foe got in on the act next before Faafou grabbed his second try of the match and replacement Ki Anufe converted with the final play to bring up the half-century of points for Samoa A.
”We are pretty happy as a unit,” admitted try-scorer Tusitala. “We came together after that loss to Fiji and tweaked a few things and we just saw this game as an opportunity to express what we have. We have a good side and thought we would put that out on the pitch and give ourselves a chance.”
Tonga A captain Sione Lolohea pulled no punches afterwards. “I think today's game was really tough, everything went wrong, especially our ruck and ball-handling. Our set-pieces started to fall apart and caused us problems in our defensive line. We have to work a lot on all the areas of rugby to fix them and get ready for the next game.”
The last round of pool matches will take place on Thursday when Samoa A tackle Junior Japan at 15:30 local time (GMT +12) with the winner to join Fiji Warriors in the final, before the hosts meet winless Tonga A at 18:00 at the ANZ Stadium
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