The top two sides from World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2019 began this year’s tournament on a winning note on day one at the ANZ Stadium in Suva.
Fiji Warriors, the hosts and four-time defending champions, extended their winning run in the competition to 14 matches with a 29-5 win against Samoa A, while 2019 runners-up Junior Japan beat Tonga A 46-10.
Neither side was happy with their performance though, especially Fiji Warriors who failed to score a single point in the second half, and both will be looking to make big improvements in the second round on Tuesday.
FIJI WARRIORS 29-5 SAMOA A
Running rugby at its finest from Fiji Warriors.— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) March 6, 2020
They beat Samoa A 29-5 in the opening round of the World Rugby Pacific Challenge. pic.twitter.com/vZ4giRqgC5
Captain Tuidraki Samusamuvodre led from the front with two tries as Fiji Warriors started their title defence with a bonus-point win.
All the damage was done in the first half with tries from centre Filimoni Savou and flanker Anasa Qaranivalu preceding Samusamuvodre’s brace. Samusamuvodre has now scored six tries in just four Pacific Challenge games following four in the 2019 tournament.
The fly-half converted the first of Fiji Warriors’ four tries, scored in the sixth minute, before handing over the kicking duties to half-back partner Simione Kuruvoli, who slotted two conversions and a penalty.
Samoa A finished the first half down to 14 men after Mesulame Skelton’s yellow card and trailed 29-0 at the turnaround.
However, they stuck to their task and actually ‘won’ the second half 5-0, as they upped their game and the home side allowed errors to creep into theirs. Winger Owen Niue scored the only points of the second half when he intercepted a pass to race home in the 49th minute.
Fiji Warriors head coach Kele Leawere did not spare his team in his post-match assessment.
“The scoreboard says it all, we made a lot of mistakes,” he lamented. “We’ll take the win, but at the end of the day, a lot of work needs to be done in terms of our preparations for the next game.
“We were supposed to hold on to the ball. There was too many 50:50 forced passes. We don’t need to do that. The game plan was to run them around and build phases from there.
“Space will come if you do that, but the boys just wanted to play that Fiji style of rugby. We’re lucky that the scoreboard was with us not against us.”
Samoa A captain Joseph Faleafaga had mixed feelings about the result.
“Fiji really gave it to us as we expected, the game was pretty tough tonight,” he said. “We didn’t execute our defence that well tonight. We worked really hard on trying to push the Fijians out wide, but we failed to do that.
“All in all, it was a good night though, and we’ll work on the things we need to work on.”
JUNIOR JAPAN 46-10 TONGA A
Junior Japan scored 27 unanswered points in a strong second-half performance to see off Tonga A in the opening match.
Tonga A actually held a slender lead around the half-hour mark, but they lost two men to the sin-bin after the break and conceded four tries to add to the three they let in in the first half.
Outside-centre Yuichiro Wada got the scoring underway in the 21st minute with the first of his two tries, Mikiya Takamoto converting for a 7-0 lead.
Front rows finishing off breakaway tries.— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) March 6, 2020
More of that please.
Junior Japan beat Tonga A 46-10 in the opening round of the World Rugby Pacific Challenge. pic.twitter.com/Ld63LeXia0
A few minutes later, though, the Tongans were back on level terms after captain Patelesio Oneone converted a try from half-back partner Saiosi Nai.
Oneone, who featured in Tonga A’s last win against Junior Japan in 2016, then slotted a penalty to nudge his side in front at 10-7 with 28 minutes played.
Winger Futo Yamaguchi then crossed twice, Takamoto adding the conversion to the second in injury-time to give his side a nine-point cushion.
Tonga A were made to pay for losing second-row Finepolo Ma’afu to the sin-bin when flanker Halatoa Vailea scored in the 53rd minute.
Five minutes after the Tongans were restored to 15 men, Junior Japan scored again through replacement hooker Kenta Masuoka. Seungsin Lee then kicked a penalty and converted a try from fellow replacement Yuta Suzuki as Junior Japan hammered home their superiority.
To add further insult to injury, Tonga A conceded a penalty try right at the death and they had to see out the final throes of the match without number eight Petelo Pouhila due to a second yellow card.
“We couldn’t play the way we wanted to play in the first half. Overall, we didn’t play well but I’m so happy that we won in the end,” said Junior Japan captain Masahiko Sagara.
His opposite number Oneone believes losing the mental battle cost his side the game.
“I think that in the first half for 20 minutes we put pressure on Japan but then, they came and scored, and the Tongan team gave up in their minds or something. They had a lot of pressure inside,” he said of his team-mates.
“Maybe for the next game we have to get it into the team’s mindset that it’s not over until the end of the game. This was our first game, and we lost, but we’re looking forward to the second game against Fiji.”
In the second round on Tuesday, Samoa A will face Junior Japan and Fiji Warriors meet Tonga A in the later of the two kick-offs at the ANZ Stadium.