There was plenty of entertaining rugby on display in the midst of sweltering heat in Suva as the inaugural Pacific Challenge kicked off in fine fashion.
Canada had little trouble running over an expectedly overwhelmed Japanese u20 side, notching 31 points in the first quarter to put the game away before it started. The poor Japan youngsters looked terrified in the open field, missing numerous tackles on their much larger opponents and often flinging the ball about aimlessly, unwilling to engage the physical Canadian defense. When they did perk up, the speed of halfbacks Ryuji Yonemura and Ryuji Noguchi was impressive, as was the courage of captain Kosuke Horikoshi. Also worth noting was that both of their tries were set up by well-designed rolling mauls, an area where Canada looked vulnerable.
The combination of Gordon McRorie and Liam Underwood looked good for Canada, albeit under little pressure. With Patrick Parfrey acting as second five-eigth, they attacked wide early and often, and to great effect. Phil Mackenzie was the primary benefactor, scoring three tries and having a fourth called back on a penalty behind the play. Conor Trainor also enjoyed the freedom of the open spaces, scoring twice and beating numerous defenders with ball in hand.
It’s hard to guage the performance based on the level of opposition, but there’s not much more Canada could have achieved under the circumstances. Some areas of concern will be defense in tight, where they were exposed on a few occasions, and some lapses in discipline, both at the breakdown and with ball in hand. All told, with no injuries and a positive outcome, there’s not much to complain about from a Canadian perspective.
Canada ‘A’ – G. McRorie 1p 6c, L. Underwood 2c, P. Mackenzie 2t, J. Moonlight 2t, C. Trainor 2t, E. Olmstead 2t, C. Hearn 1t
Junior Japan – R. Noguchi 1t 1p 2c, K. Horikoshi 1t
C. Hearn (P. Kay 62); J. Wilson-Ross, C. Trainor, P. Parfrey (H. Jones 57), P. Mackenzie; L. Underwood, G. McRorie (S. White 60); H. Buydens (capt.) (P. Houlihan 68), R. Barkwill, T. Dolezel (R. Kotlewski 52); C. Morrison, E. Olmstead; A. Kleeberger (T. de Goede HT), J. Moonlight, S. Pearson (K. Baillie 56).
S. Ozaki; T. Kuwayama, Y. Okada, S. Nakano, H. Higashikawa (T. Ozaki 62); R. Noguchi, R. Yonemura (K. Murase 68); S. Miura (R. Kuhara 68), K. Horikoshi (capt.) (Y. Furuta 73), T. Kakimoto (Y. Fujino 53); T. Tsuji (Y. Sano 68), S. Song (R. Sasaki 60); H. Kato, K. Urabe, T. Maeda.
An absolutely chaotic match was next up, as the Samoan and Tongans were full-on from start to finish, throwing everything into every collision much to the delight of the fans. Tonga started strong but it was Samoa who got on the board early through outstanding hooker Andrew Williams and square-shouldered winger Faleniu Iosi. The Tongans replied quickly however, first through the boot of Eddie Uele and then a well-earned try to livewire flanker Frank Havea to bring them back into contention before the half.
The ding-dong battle continued Titi Esau and Liueli Simote exchanging kicks along with offsetting tries by Oneone Fa’afou and Sosaia Palei. With Samoa on their heels and Tonga looking certain to score, an ill-advised chip kick from Viliami Mavae was intercepted and replacement flanker Francis Ieremia raced away to score the game winner completely against the run of play. A late effort by Fotu Lokotui brought the final score close, but it was too late. It was a great game to watch, if a little short on accuracy and defensive awareness.
Samoa ‘A’ – T. Esau 2p 1c, P. Fa’apale 1c, A. Williams 1t, Fn. Iosi 1t, O. Fa’afou 1t, F. Ieremia 1t
Tonga ‘A’ – E. Uele 2p, L. Simote 1p 2c, F. Havea 1t, S. Palei 1t, F. Lokotui 1t
Samoa ‘A’ – O. Fa’afou yellow (17)
Tonga ‘A’ – A. Ma’afu yellow (76)
H. Suau’u; T. Esau (S. Iosua 76), R. Meredith (V. Afa 63), F. Afamasaga, Fn. Iosi; P. Fa’apale (capt.), V. Afemai; R. Fualau (A. Malo 72), A. Williams (S. Semeane 63), Ft. Iosi (J. Grey 53); F. Afiafi, E. Togitele (L. Sefo 53); P. Semeane (F. Ieremia 70), O. Fa’afou, N. Aitui.
S. Fiefia (L. Simote HT); S. Talakai, S. Palei, A. Ma’afu, E. Hefa (S. Tautalanoa 63); E. Uele (V. Mavae 49), S. Muna; K. Tuipulotu (T. Ahia 53), W. Tuifua (T. Otuvaka 65), K. Kaufusi (L. Kilifi 79); A. Fe’ao (capt.), M. Tonga (T. Na’a 72); J. Ram, F. Havea, L. Ahovelo (F. Lokotui 55).
Hosts Fiji very nearly pulled off an upset despite playing half the match short-handed, including a 10-minute spell with only 13 men after Manuel Laqai was shown red and Nemani Nagusa yellow for their part in a fairly benign looking skirmish. The officials must have seen something that wasn’t immediately apparent from the replay of the incident, which failed to show anything remotely warranting a red card.
After spending the entire first quarter camped inside their own 22, it was Fiji who scored first after a poorly contested up-and-under bounced into the hands of Aminiasi Nava, and the big flanker galloped 40 metres untouched to give his side an unlikely lead. The Pampas went right back on attack from the restart and eventually some hot stepping from Santiago Cordero created space for Manuel Montero, and the big winger finished well down the sideline in trademark fashion.
Somehow the Warriors looked better with Nava in the bin for something behind the play, and two penalty goals from Isoa Donaldson put them in the lead, but then the cards came out and that effectively killed the contest. Montero crossed for his second and Javier Ortega Desio notched one of his own as the Fijian defense inevitably tired. Remarkably they never gave up, and even scored a try at the final whistle to make the scoreboard more respectable.
Captain Tomás Cubelli looked bitterly disappointed with the result in the post-game interview, and rightfully so as his side failed to capitalize on their virtual monopoly of both possession and territory. The Pampas midfield in particular was very ineffective. Fiji will be hugely proud of the tremendous defensive effort, but will rue their lack of discipline at key moments and their failure to protect their own ball going forward.
Fiji Warriors – I. Donaldson 1t 1p 3c, A. Nava 1t
Argentina Pampas – S. González Iglesias 1p 2c, M. Montero 2t, J. Ortega Desio 1t
Fiji Warriors – A. Nava yellow (29), M. Laqai red (50), N. Nagusa yellow (50)
I. Donaldson (N. Wakaya 68); S. Cava (E. Waqa 60), P. Waqanibau (J. Kerevi 62), E. Vasiteri, J. Stewart; K. Douglas, S. Laqai; I. Bele (J. Veitayaki 54), S. Ledua (S. Cakobau 68), T. Koroi (L. Atalifo 68); M. Tamaya, M. Ucutabua (A. Mataivelia 59); A. Nava, F. Koroi (T. Sauvoli 68), N. Nagusa (capt.).
R. Miralles (E. Boffelli HT); S. Cordero, M. Moroni, J. de la Fuente, M. Montero; S. González Iglesias (J. Rojas 55), T. Cubelli (capt.) (F. Ezcurra 55); B. Postiglioni (L. Noguera Paz 55), J. Montoya (F. Bosch 50), M. Díaz (L. Martínez 50); G. Petti, M. Alemanno (G. Albertario 62); P. Matera, J. Ortega Desio, L. Ahualli (F. Isa HT).