Planet Rugby

Tonga grab four-pointer

12th September 2007 15:10

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Tonga v USA stock

A Tongan on the charge against the USA

Tonga made a successful start to their World Cup on Wednesday, beating the USA 25-15 in Montpellier to give others in Pool A food for thought.

With Tonga leading 13-3 at half-time, the main difference between the two teams was speed to the breakdown, but the Islanders may look back on the fumbles that cost them a host of try-scoring opportunities and reflect that the win ought to have been more handsome.

The Sea Eagles had flown out of the blocks and within a mere 80 seconds opened the scores after a brutal, yet controlled driving maul saw Toulouse loose forward Finau Maka crash over.

And they continued their early dominance in the searing French heat as the Eagles were caught offside by referee Stuart Dickinson, allowing Pierre Hola to extend the lead to ten.

But the USA, who had given England such a torrid contest last Saturday, began to feel their way into the game as the Sea Eagles dropped their guard.

Peter Thorburn's side started to control possession but struggled to make inroads into the Tongan defence, as several slack kicking options from captain Mike Hercus hindered the Americans.

And it ultimately cost the Eagles as Tonga's physical presence forced them to hold on at the breakdown, with Hola piercing the uprights again.

With the score now stretched to 13-0, the US continued to feel the tackling intensity of their opponents, as they struggled to progress to within 20 metres of Tonga's line.

But their industrious efforts were rewarded after a late challenge gifted Hercus a simple penalty to reduce the lead back to ten on 32 minutes.

With half-time nearing, the tempo of the game increased dramatically as play spread from end-to-end.

Chris Wyles sparked a USA attack from deep inside his 22, racing 40 metres downfield. The full-back then handed the ball on to flank Todd Clever, who continued the surge en route for the Tongan line. But last-ditch tackling, notably from Vungakoto Lilo rescued the Islanders.

The second period opened just as frantically with the USA setting up camp deep inside Tongan territory. And strong work from the Eagles pack saw hooker Owen Lentz believing he'd scored. Dickinson went to the TMO Mark Lawrence, but the video proved inconclusive with no try awarded.

But America continued to threaten and deservedly squeezed over in the corner when Leeds Carnegie prop Mike MacDonald stretch for the line, bringing the scores to 8-13.

However, Tongan skipper Nili Latu handed his side some breathing space just as the Eagles were imposing themselves on the proceedings. The flank punctured a hole in the American defence, which led to winger Joseph Vaka diving over wide out.

A grandstand finish had looked to be in the offing though, when Louis Stanfill barged over, but substitute Viliami Vaki immediately responded for the Tongans, keeping the Eagles at arm's distance.

Man of the match: A tough call as the States dominated the second period, but Tongan flank Hale T Pole's efforts stood out for the Islanders. Part of the impressive Sea Eagles' back-row, T Pole was a solid line-out option and also defended admirably for the attacking Maka and Latu.

Moment of the match: A pulsating start to Tonga's World Cup campaign. Excellent work from the forwards saw Finau Maka cross in less than two minutes.

Villain of the match: The final member of the Tongan back-row trio, captain Nili Latu. An apparent clenched fist from the flank when going into a tackle may have repercussions for Quddus Fielea's Pool hopes. However, USA's Alec Parker's hair pull on lock Paino Hehea came close.

The scorers:

For Tonga:

Tries: Maka, Vaka, Vaki

Cons: Hola 2

Pens: Hola 2

For USA:

Tries: MacDonald, Stanfill

Con: Hercus

Pen: Hercus

Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Tevita Tu'ifua, 13 Sukanaivalu Hufanga, 12 Epeli Taione, 11 Joseph Vaka, 10 Pierre Hola, 9 Soane Havea, 8 Finau Maka, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Hale T-Pole, 5 Paino Hehea, 4 Lisiate Fa'aoso, 3 Kisi Pulu, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.

Replacements: 16 Ephraim Taukafa, 17 Toma Toke, 18 Viliami Vaki, 19 Lotu Filipine, 20 Sione Tu'ipulotu, 21 Isileli Tupou, 22 Aisea Havili.

USA: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Salesi Sika, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Vahafolau Esikia, 11 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 10 Mike Hercus (c), 9 Chad Erskine, 8 Henry Bloomfield, 7 Todd Clever, 6 Louis Stanfill, 5 Mike Mangan, 4 Alec Parker, 3 Chris Osentowski, 2 Owen Lentz, 1 Mike MacDonald.

Replacements: 16 Blake Burdette, 17 Matekitonga Moeakiola, 18 Hayden Mexted, 19 Inaki Basauri, 20 Mike Petri, 21 Valenese Malifa, 22 Albert Tuipulotu.

Referee: Stuart Dickinson

Touch judges: Craig Joubert, Christophe Berdos

Television match official: Mark Lawrence

Assessor: Bob Francis

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