Fiji withstand Tongan comeback

Photo: Fiji Rugby

The Fiji Water Flying Fijians successfully defend their home ground against a strong Tonga Ikale Tahi team 36-20 in a fully-packed Churchill Park this past weekend.

Tonga was coming off an impressive win against Australia A last week in Nuku’alofa.

After the traditional challenge of ‘cibi’ and ‘sipi tau’ was laid, both of these Pacific teams were eager to knuckle up right from the kick-off.

However, Fiji’s favourite weapon for the day was Josua “The Bus” Tuisova.

Tuisova looked very comfortable in the inside centre role as he ran and tackled hard all afternoon. His man of the match performance has likely seen him find his preferred position after playing in the wings at international level for some years.

Fiji pounced right from the get-go and ran rampant over Tonga, scoring three tries in the first 19 minutes of the game.

But Tonga regained its composure to drive some momentum through their forward pack led by elusive openside flanker Solomone Funaki.

The Moana Pasifika captain showed his worth by creating havoc for the Fijians in the tackles and brutal collisions. Funaki is a future star for Tonga.

The driving maul from the lineouts was working well for Tonga giving them their first try, and all of a sudden the game started to sway in favour of Tonga as they launched a stiff comeback.

Tonga fielded three former New Zealand All Blacks for this clash; Vaea Fifita (number 8), Malakai Fekitoa (inside center) and Charles Piutau (fullback).

Piutau was always dangerous in attack and set up one of Tonga’s tries in the second half. Such a classy player, he will always break the first tackle – no wonder he was once rated the highest paid rugby player in the world back in 2018.

Halfback Frank Lomani was superb in making his deliveries. He controlled the pace of the game well.

Samuel Matavesi had a good outing. Having plied his trade in the UK’s top premiership competition, he showed vast experience and great poise in the execution of lineout throws.

Test debutants Caleb Muntz and Salestino Ravutaumada had an outstanding first test. Ravutaumada was always lurking in support and looked dangerous with ball in hand. Muntz had a good day with the boot; kicking three successful conversations and 1 penalty.

The duo continued their scintillating performance from the 2023 Super Rugby season.

Fiji captain Waisea Nayacalevu led with courage and finesse in the hard-fought encounter, showing tremendous potential in leading Fiji in these pre-world cup matches.

“We know that it is not an easy game against our brothers from Tonga. It’s always a tough one. So credit to the boys… we gave our best out there. And we hope we make the people of Fiji and our families proud today,” he said post-match.

Nayacalevu also scored the best try of the game when he broke through from the 50 meter mark and ran around the last defender. It was good to see the 33-year-old veteran still had wheels to burn.

In the end Tonga strived hard for the comeback to put down three tries but proved to be outdone by the flair and speed of the Fijians.

Captain Sonatane Takalua shared thoughts on the game, “We leave everything out there… some individual mistakes out there but Fiji keep showing us what they can do with the ball in hand as you can see in the scoreboard. So credit to Fiji.”

The game served as a good foundation for both Fiji and Tonga in the remaining Pacific Nations Cup games against Manu Samoa and Japan who also played this weekend, Samoa just scraping by a two-points victory against the brave Blossoms, 24 – 22.