Fiji Warriors hold a four-point lead over Junior Japan the top of the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2019 standings after beating the Asian side comfortably in front of a home crowd in Suva.
The defending champions, who have won the last three titles, produced some sublime running rugby in a 66-24 victory that leaves them needing just one point from Saturday's final round encounter with Samoa A to maintain their grip on the trophy.
Meanwhile, in the first match on Tuesday, Tonga A defeated Samoa A 13-12 with the last kick of the game.
Great turnover from Frank Lomani to setup Tira Patterson for the looooong run in at the World Rugby Pacific Challenge pic.twitter.com/AEmgp3IZWE— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) March 12, 2019
FIJI WARRIORS 66-24 JUNIOR JAPAN
Fiji Warriors are on the verge of their fourth consecutive Pacific Challenge title and a ninth in total since the competition's inception in 2006 after another 10-try display at the ANZ Stadium in Suva.
Winger Tira Patterson added to his first round brace against Tonga A with a hat-trick of tries as the Warriors swept Junior Japan aside with a thrilling display of power and pace, and is now both the top try scorer and point scorer in the competition.
"It was a great effort from the boys tonight, I’d like to thank them for their effort and also to the Japanese team for the good game and to our fans for coming," said Warriors captain Frank Lomani.
"I think the young boys stepped up from last week, especially the subs – I think they’ve played well tonight."
Looking ahead to Saturday's finale, he added: "We have another chance to prove ourselves. The Tonga and Japan games have finished so we’re heading into the Samoa game on Saturday. It’s going to be a good game because I know the Samoan boys will come at us hard, but I know the boys will play well."
Japan kicked off but they'd barely had another sight of the ball when outside-centre Veresa Tuqovu crossed for the first of his side's 10 tries after just 73 seconds. Enele Tikotani missed the conversion and by the time winger Veramu Dikidikilati had crossed for the Warriors' second try on 22 minutes, the kicking tee had been passed to Caleb Muntz.
Muntz had endured a disappointing day with the boot in round one but was on target with his first attempt and went on to land four more conversions before being replaced on the hour mark.
Last year's captain Mosese Voka and Patterson went over in quick succession, and Muntz improved both scores, as the home side established a 26-0 lead with half an hour played.
However, the more inexperienced Junior Japan showed tremendous spirit to close out the half with two tries of their own through winger Yuki Mochizuki and outside-centre Siosaia Fifita, the second converted by Naoto Saito.
It took nine minutes of the second half before Lomani added to his side's 26-12 half-time lead but once the Junior Japan defence had been cracked, Patterson raced over twice more soon after to complete his treble.
Then, on 62 minutes, inside-centre Tuidraki Samusamuvodre converted his own try to notch up a half-century of points for the Warriors.
A yellow card for replacement forward Richard Derenalagi allowed Junior Japan to get back into the match and they earned themselves a penalty try before their Pacific hosts responded with tries for Fabiano Navabale and Dikidikilati, Simione Kuruvoli converting for a 66-19 lead.
Credit to Junior Japan, they kept trying to play the Warriors at their own game and a final try for winger Haruto Kida, when the clock was in red, was just reward for their efforts.
"We are grateful for this game as it was our biggest target in this tournament. We are disappointed with the result but there are some points for improvement in preparation for the next game," said Junior Japan captain Shota Fukui.
Nerves of steel!— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) March 12, 2019
12-10 down, a penalty awarded, up steps captain Liueli Simote and slots a huge penalty to take an incredible victory for Tonga A in the World Rugby Pacific Challenge! pic.twitter.com/tQTG9OSkIa
SAMOA A 12-13 TONGA A
Captain and full-back Liueli Simote was the hero of the hour for Tonga A as he stepped up and coolly slotted a stoppage-time penalty from all of 45 metres to snatch the most dramatic of wins.
Once the final whistle sounded, Simote was mobbed by his team-mates amid scenes of utter jubilation.
"We are quite overwhelmed by the result today," he said, after having had some time to regather his thoughts. "I think the team put more effort and unity in this game than before. I think one of the good things we can take out of this game is the unity of the group. I think this win will give us courage for the next game. I know the boys will be ready after this win."
Simote opened the scoring with a seventh-minute penalty but that was as good as it got for his side in terms of points on the board, and Samoa A took a slender 5-3 lead into half-time after D'Angelo Leuila crossed for the first try of the match.
Five minutes into the second half Tonga A regained the lead when outside-centre Alefosio Vahe dotted down and Simote converted to make the score 10-5 to the men in red.
Tonga A's five-point cushion only lasted 15 minutes, blindside flanker Paul Faalogo finding his way through the Tongan defence that was by now short-handed following a yellow card to replacement forward Paea Fonoifua. Leuila added the extras to put Samoa A 12-10 up.
Just as it looked as though Samoa A would close out the win, they gave away a penalty just inside their own half, giving Simote an opportunity that he gratefully accepted with something to spare, the ball sailing through the middle of the posts to hand his side a thrilling victory.
RWC 2019 Tickets
RWC 2019 Official Ticketing site NOW LIVE
Fans can now register interest to apply for Rugby World Cup 2019 tickets