Fiji escaped the embarrassment of a loss to the Eagles by the skin of their teeth, just holding out after playing shorthanded for a quarter of the match. Indiscipline and serious lapses in concentration nearly cost them the match, and on another day surely would have, as the Americans had more than ample opportunity to come away victorious.
Fiji had a quick start and it was Taku Ngwenya, of all people, who stepped in and made a big hit on Leone Nakarawa to shut down a certain try. Another potential score fell out of the fingers of Watisoni Votu after a nifty little set move from a lineout. The Eagles were in trouble out wide and while they managed to hold out for a time, eventually Vereniki Goneva put Timoci Nagusa away to score the first try. Two minutes later it was Nagusa’s turn to be the creator, rounding Phil Thiel with ease before polishing off an easy 2-on-1 with Votu skating over in the corner.
Nagusa stayed down after the play, seemingly seriously injured in a very innocuous looking tackle. Whether it was the disruption or the ease of the scores, or a combination of both, the Fijians just seemed to lose their concentration for a stretch, a recurring symptom that coach John McKee has been attempting to iron out of their game. The lapse allowed the Eagles to very nearly drive one over just before the half, and Todd Clever might justifiably feel hard done by not to be awarded a penalty try when Tale Tuapati was binned for pulling down an American maul that looked destined for the end zone. Instead the Americans knocked on and Fiji cleared to narrowly escape what should have been a crucial score.
Bizarrely Nagusa returned after the break, but his reappearance didn’t seem to lift his site much, as Votu made a bad defensive error to gift Seamus Kelly a try within two minutes of the restart. The big winger redeemed himself by finishing off a terrific Goneva break created out of nothing by Leone Nakarawa. With the game seemingly put to bed, however, Fiji switched off once again.
Of course the game wasn’t over by a long shot, and some nice hands from debutant Ronnie McLean gave Ngwenya some space, and his electric pace proved decisive once again, turning Nagusa inside out to dot down a vital 7-pointer. Shalom Suniula looked to have found the winner with 15 minutes to go, breaking past some more lazy defense, but for reasons known only to him he chose to pass to Kelly. Instead of merely running straight to score, Asaeli Tikoirotuma intercepted and stole the game away. It was an horrendous mistake, a classic blunder that will burn in Suniula’s memory for ages to come.
Fiji’s second yellow came shortly after, with Votu lucky not to be sent off for a ridiculous flying elbow on Thretton Palamo. Nick Wallace’s knock-on from a subsequent maul was the sort of dreadfully poor execution that has become a stable of the American game. Failing to protect their own ball has unquestionably been their downfall over the past two games, and something that both coaches and players alike should have to answer for.
While the match was reasonably entertaining match, it would also have been a disappointing end for both teams in terms of both team and individual performance. Fiji have underachieved once again, while the Americans just can’t seem to turn the corner on average. For now it’s back to the drawing room for both sets of coaches, and back to the club game for the players. Another season done and dusted, another box of ‘what if’s to put on the mantlepiece.
FIJI 20 vs 14 UNITED STATES
Friday, November 21, 18:00 GMT, Vannes
10 mins – N. Nadolo pen 3-0
27 mins – T. Nagusa try 8-0
27 mins – N. Nadolo con 10-0
29 mins – W. Votu try 15-0
42 mins – S. Kelly try 15-5
43 mins – R. McLean con 15-7
50 mins – W. Votu try 20-7
58 mins – T. Ngwenya try 20-12
37 mins – T. Tuapati yellow (professional foul)
68 mins – W. Votu yellow (foul play)
T. Nagusa (J. Ralulu 30-HT); W. Votu, V. Goneva, N. Nadolo (W. Nayacalevu 73), A. Tikoirotuma; J. Matavesi, H. Seniloli (N. Kenatale 78); P. Ravai (I. Colati 78), T. Tuapati (S. Koto 65), M. Saulo (T. Koroi 65); L. Nakarawa, T. Cavubati (N. Soqeta 71); A. Qera (capt.), M. Ravulo, M. Matadigo (S. Koto 39-48) (D. Waqaniburotu 57).
R. McLean; T. Ngwenya, S. Kelly, T. Palamo, T. Stanfill; S. Suniula, M. Petri; O. Kilifi (N. Wallace 59), P. Thiel, M. Moeakiola; J. Cullen (K. Sumsion 78), G. Peterson (L. Stanfill 78); S. LaValla, J. Quill (K. Sumsion 35-HT), T. Clever (capt.) (M. Trouville 48).
Referee: J. Lacey (IRFU)
Assistants: P. Fitzgibbon (IRFU) & G. Conway (IRFU)
TMO: I. Ramage (SRU)