Thirteen-man Tonga triumph

16th Sep 2007, 21:13


Nili Latu displays Tonga's spirit

Nili Latu displays Tonga's spirit

Tonga have recorded one of the most famous wins in their rugby history, beating Samoa 19-15 in Montpellier and throwing Pool A wide open.

Tonga, despite being reduced to 13 men, ended a seven-year losing streak against Samoa by causing one of the biggest upsets of the World Cup, winning 19-15 in their Pool A match at Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier, on Sunday.

The Tongans, who played with 14 men for 20 minutes of the game and 13 men for the last five minutes, sent a strong message to pool rivals South Africa and England with a performance that showed plenty of heart.

They may not have the structure of their more illustrious rivals and talk of a quarter-final place may be premature, but they showed they can never be written off.

As one of the poorest nations at the World Cup, they showed that they can grind out victories.

As captain Nili Latu said: "We came from Tonga [to the World Cup] with empty pockets, but determined to make a point. We have got two big games coming up [against South Africa on September 22 and England six days later] and that is going to test us."

However, the Tongans passed a big Test in Montpellier on Sunday.

Despite being underdogs they played a tactically more astute game, especially in the second half.

As could be expected, the set pieces of both teams were not of a standard that will suggest they can be World Cup winners. They are simply not clinical enough and can be disrupted far too easily. That is why they struggle against the bigger teams.

Normally both sides do bring something special to the game, which includes a willingness to play the game a great pace and take the ball wide as often as possible.

Unfortunately the Sevens skills which these teams are so famous for seemed to have deserted them for large parts of the game.

As a result the first half lacked any real structure or the entertainment value you would have expected of an encounter between these two rivals.

The other disappointing aspect of the game was the extraordinary amount of kicking, as both teams looked flat and very lethargic in a game with a very high error count.

Added to that the option taking and execution of both teams also left a lot to be desired for teams

It was only in the final quarter that there was life to be found in this clash.

Tonga wasted no time in opening their account - a sweetly struck Pierre Hola penalty, coming after a number of strong driving plays by the Tongans that put the Samoan defenders under pressure.

However, the Samoans hit back almost straight away - with fullback Gavin Williams levelling matters with a penalty of his own.

Samoa showed their willingness to up the pace of the game, despite the intense heat, when they took a quick line-out and came within a TMO's call of scoring. As is often the case with calls going to the TMO it wasn't very clear if the ball had been grounded and the doubt resulted in a five metre scrum. It gave the Tongans a chance to ward off the immediate threat.

It took the Samoans another 15 minutes to get points on the board, another Williams penalty, when Tonga were penalised for not releasing the ball on the ground with the Samoans on attack just metres out from the Tongan tryline.

The Samoans now started to assert themselves on the game and the Tongans conceded a couple of quick penalties, the second of which Williams slotted to take his team's lead to 9-3 after just 23 minutes.

Tonga's prospects were dealt a further blow when centre Epeli Taione was yellow carded for repeated infringements in the 28th minute and Williams slotted a fourth penalty to give the Samoans an even bigger lead.

Ironically this finally sparked the Tongans into action and after a lack of concentration saw some of their earlier efforts come to nothing, Hola slotted his second penalty with just two minutes to go to narrow the gap.

Hola had another shot at goal right on the half-time hooter, but this one he dragged wide.

The penalty count continued to mount and Tonga were the first beneficiaries of this early in the second half when Hola slotted his third penalty to narrow the gap to just three points (12-9).

Samoa's frustration with the harrassing nature of the Tongan game started to show as they conceded some unnecessary penalties and lost any momentum they would have hoped to have build up.

The Tongans, thriving in the stop-start nature of the game looked the more assured of the two sides as the final quarter approached.

And the Tongans were soon rewarded as they not only lifted the tempo, but also the effectiveness of their game.

The reward came in the form of a try to previously yellow-carded centre Epeli Taione - who was driven over in a heap of bodies, after a a maul and a series of forward-orientated drives.

Hola added the conversion and a penalty a few minutes later as the Tongans looked to pull clear. At 19-12 ahead, they looked in control.

However, poor discipline cost them dearly as Williams slotted his fifth penalty of the afternoon for Samoa in the 69th minute - following a cheap, high shot - and the gap had narrowed to just four points again - 19-15 to Tonga.

And it went from bad to worse when fiery flanker Hale T-Pole - the man who was warned earlier for his cheap shot on an opponent - was red carded for another act of foul play - this time an elbow to someone's chops.

The Tongans simply did not learn and replacement forward Toma Toke was yellow carded two minutes later for another cheap, high shot on an opponent.

Yet, the Samoans failed to cash in on their numerical advantage - with some really sloppy play resulting in every scoring chance going to waste.

But the 13-man Tongan team deserves credit for some ferocious tackling - which, of course, was not always legal.

However, they hung on desperately and earned a valuable win - their first against Samoa since 2000.

Man of the match: It wasn't a game of many highlights and many heroes. The standard of play was far too poor. However, Tongan number eight Finau Maka certainly put his hand up all afternoon - both on defence and attack.

Moment of the match: It is simple.The only try of the match and the defining moment - with centre Epeli Taione being driven over the line under a pile of bodies in the 59th minute. It came from a maul and a series of drives, a typical forward try, but the centre was there to add his weight to the Tongan cause and it paid dividends.

Villain of the match: They were by no means the only culprits in a series of transgressions, but Tongan centre Epeli Taione and replacement forward Toma Toke are both in the book for this award with their yellow cards. However, the outright winner is Tongan flank Hale T-Pole, who was red carded for an injudicious elbow three minutes after he had been warned for a similar dig on an opponent.

The scorers:

For Samoa:
Pens: Williams 5

For Tonga:
Try: Taione
Con: Hola
Pens: Hola 4

Yellow cards: Epeli Taione (Tonga,