AUCKLAND – Fiji highlighted how dangerous it could be on the counterattack at the Rugby World Cup as it scored two scintillating long-range tries to beat Tonga 29-19 at Eden Park on Saturday.
The match, part of the Pasifika Challenge doubleheader that also included Samoa beating a New Zealand Heartland XV 36-19 in the first game, was the final warm-up match for the Fijians before they head to Japan.
Fiji opens its Pool D campaign against Australia on Sept. 21 and demonstrated on Saturday how dangerous it would be if the Wallabies kick poorly and do not shut down their exciting backline.
Former Australian rugby league international Semi Radradra, even though he was facing the highly experienced duo of Cooper Vuna and captain Siale Piutau in the midfield, proved especially difficult to shut down.
The ball-handling skills and long-loping strides of the speedy forwards that have propeled Fiji to sevens dominance were also evident, while their stinging defense ensured Tonga did not run away with the game in the first half.
Tonga, which faces the All Blacks next week in Hamilton, looked far more organized as it controlled the ball for long phases but could not penetrate the Fijian defense.
Both of their first half tries, to Piutau and hooker Paula Ngauamo, were the result of patient buildups, however, the Fijians went into the break with a 17-12 lead after they pounced on three turnovers.
Wingers Josua Tuisava and Vereniki Goneva finished off sweeping long-range movements, while flanker Semi Kunatani dived over in the corner after a dropped ball by Tonga’s scrumhalf Sona Takulua gave Fiji the ball inside the 22-meter area.
Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu crossed to give Fiji a 24-12 lead, before a try to Tonga winger Viliami Lolohea was controversially ruled out by referee Ben O’Keeffe for a dangerous tackle on Kalivati Tawake.
The Fijian prop, however, appeared to duck his head into the contact as the Tonga player attempted a legitimate tackle.
Fiji hooker Samuel Matavesi crossed to make it 29-12 before Sefo Sakalia narrowed the gap with a consolation try.
The Fijians now have a series of final training camps before their opener against the Wallabies and also play Uruguay, Georgia and Wales in Pool D.
Tonga’s first game in Pool C is against England on Sept. 22. before it faces Argentina, France and the United States.