Late tries sink Taione's Tonga
By Steve Grace
Samoa came from behind to beat a 13-man Tonga outfit 25-17 on Saturday in a match played in a greasy mudbath in Apia to open the Pacific Nations Cup tournament.
Tonga, already hampered by the late withdrawal of the inspirational Nasi Manu - who was replaced as captain by Exeter Chiefs hooker Elvis Taione, had two players in the sin-bin when Afasetiti Amosa and then Belgium Tuatagaloa swung the game Samoa's way with tries in the closing minutes.
Torrential rain before kick-off reduced Apia Park to a quagmire which impacted on the game as a spectacle despite a willingness by both sides to throw the ball around.
Manu, who was only cleared of testicular cancer last month, was set to cap his remarkable recovery by captaining Tonga, but a few hours before kick-off the Tonga Rugby Union tweeted that the affable 30-year-old was injured and would take no part in the tournament.
Samoa dominated possession and territory but were held out in the first half by the staunch defence of Tonga who led 10-3 at the turn with two tries coming when they reverted to wet weather rugby.
The first was initiated by a raking kick downfield by Samisoni Fisilau with Cooper Vuna winning the race for the ball to toe it over the line to score. Human battering ram Ben Tamiefuna scored the second from a close-range charge through the Samoan pack.
A short line-out early in the second half finally exposed a hole in the Tongan defence with Amosa, having an impressive outing on debut, strolling through a gap to put Alapati Leiua away for the try.
Fly-half Ulapano Seuteni, another of the four Samoans playing their first Test, landed the conversion to level the scores and then kicked a close-range penalty to put the hosts ahead for the first time.
Replacement hooker Sefo Sakalia scored under the posts to regain the lead for Tonga, but then undid the good work by being yellow carded for pulling down a maul when his side was already a man down following a no-arms tackle by former Exeter Chiefs forward Onehunga Havili.
It not only cost Tonga the lead but the two late tries for Samoa also denied the visitors a losing bonus point.