Argentina Pampas XV successfully defended their World Rugby Pacific Challenge title with a hard-fought 17-9 victory over Fiji Warriors in the final at the ANZ Stadium on Monday.
On an emotional day in Suva following the passing of Fiji Warriors players Bele Tabalala on Saturday, the competition's six teams all wore black armbands and the host team their black strip in his memory.
Before the match, the Fiji Rugby Union retired the number one jersey in his memory as he would have worn the jersey in the final. The jerseys from both the primary and alternative Warriors kit were presented to his parents by the Fijian Prime Minister before an emotional minute's silence was held.
The Warriors took the lead in the title decider with two penalties in the first 15 minutes from scrum-half Serupepeli Vularika.
With the Pampas XV yet to lose a match since joining the tournament last year – when it was known as the Pacific Rugby Cup – they opened their account with a try by Santiago Cordero in the 31st minute with fly-half Santiago González Iglesias’s conversion edging his side ahead 7-6.
However the Fiji Warriors, who won the title for five consecutive years until being dethroned by the Pampas in 2014, would go in with a narrow 9-7 half-time lead after a third penalty from Vularika.
Felicitaciones para el equipo argentino, que venció a Fiji Warriors por 17 a 9 en la final de la World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2015.— UnionArgentinaRugby (@unionargentina) March 23, 2015
Those would be the last points that the Warriors would score though as a try from Jerónimo de la Fuente just before the hour mark and another González Iglesias conversion edged the Argentinians back in front once more.
The match was still in the balance until another González Iglesias penalty four minutes from time made certain of victory for the Pampas XV with a perfect four wins from four record in the Pacific Challenge in 2015.
“It was very tough, the whole 80 minutes because the Fijian guys are very tough. It was close the final and we are happy for the win. We wanted to come here to develop our team and that is what we have done,” said Pampas captain González Iglesias.
Canada sneak it late
His Fiji Warriors counterpart Nemani Nagusa added: “I thank the boys for giving their hearts out and giving 100 per cent effort today. We lost concentration in the second half, we wanted to start well but we lost concentration and that, along with discipline and errors, cost us the game.”
The Pampas XV starting line-up in the final were all players capped at test level by Los Pumas and that experience had helped them reach the final as Pool A winners after beating the Warriors 22-20, Tonga A 31-7 and Canada A 36-15 in Suva.
Pool B winners the Warriors recovered from that early setback against the Pampas to overwhelm Junior Japan 83-0 and then beat Samoa A 42-20 to the delight of their home fans in the key development tournament.
Canada A left it late to secure third place on their Pacific Challenge debut, scoring a last minute try through flanker Alastair Clark to beat Samoa A 28-26. Samoa A had led 21-13 at half-time with tries from Andrew Williams and Faialaga Afamasaga cancelling out an effort from Liam Underwood.
Two yellow cards to their opponents in the second half allowed Canada to build momentum and they fought back to 21-21 after Ray Barkwill went over in the corner, but Samoa A seemed to have snuck it with a try five minutes from time until Clark had the final say.
Tonga A finished fifth after a 43-24 defeat of Junior Japan. The Tongans raced out of the blocks with tries by second row Fotu Lokotui, centre Apakuki Ma'afu, scrum-half Samiu Muna and second row Michael Tonga giving them a 28-10 lead at the break in the day's opening match.
That grew by another five points within minutes of the restart after Siale Talakai's try, but two yellow cards slowed their momentum and a battling Junior Japan cut the deficit to 33-24 with tries by second row Tevita Tatafu and replacement Ryuji Noguchi. There was to be no fairytale comeback though as Tonga made certain of victory with tries by Viliami Mavae and Taufa Otuvaka.
World Rugby Pacific Challenge results
Junior Japan 17-69 Canada A
Samoa A 30-28 Tonga A
Pampas XV 22-20 Fiji Warriors
Pampas XV 31-7 Tonga A
Samoa A 19-17 Canada A
Junior Japan 0-83 Fiji Warriors
Junior Japan 24-60 Tonga A
Pampas XV 36-15 Canada A
Samoa A 20-42 Fiji Warriors
Junior Japan 24-43 Tonga A
Samoa A 26-28 Canada A
Pampas XV 17-9 Fiji Warriors