Hooker Ray Niuia scored three tries from lineout drives Saturday as Samoa rallied from 18-3 down in the first half to beat Tonga 34-18 and stay unbeaten after two rounds of the Pacific Nations Cup.
In a later match, Australia A upset host Fiji 32-18. Australia A led 15-13 at halftime on the back of a strong forwards performance and closed out the match with a composed second half while Fiji made too many handling errors.
Niuia’s third try gave Samoa its first lead in the match after 52 minutes at Lautoka, Fiji, and an intercept try on debut to center Tumua Manu helped seal Samoa’s win. Backrower Theo McFarland completed a five-try turnaround with a try in the 76th minute.
After two rounds, Samoa is 2-0, Australia A and Fiji are 1- 1 and Tonga is without a win. Next weekend in the final round, Australia A plays Tonga and Samoa meets Fiji.
Tonga came into the match on the back of a sobering 36-0 opening-round loss to Fiji while Samoa’s confidence had been raised by its 31-26 win over a strong Australia A team.
Samoa was the favorite on the basis of that first-up performance and its world ranking of 14, compared with Tonga’s of 16. But Tonga rocked Samoa with a bold first-half performance in which it scored its first two tries of the tournament.
After an early period in which it weathered and repelled Samoa attacks with solid defense, Tonga won a small surplus of possession and created tries for center Fetuli Paea and lock Veikoso Poloniati. It was helped by Samoa’s defense which missed 11 first-half tackles.
Niuia scored the first of his hat-trick of tries just before halftime as Samoa found a foothold in the match through the proficiency of its lineout.
The powerful hooker scored again in the 45th and 52nd minutes of the second half, while Tonga was down to 14 men with Poloniati in the sin-bin.
“Full credit to Tonga. When we previewed them we knew exactly what they were going to come with in the first 20,” Samoa captain Michael Ala'alatoa said. “We were too slow out of the box and we let them get their game going.
“Credit to our boys. We went back to our set piece and our set piece was working well for us. Our lineout drive was something we backed for the whole game and we got our momentum back.”
Ala'alatoa said the Samoa coaches delivered a stern halftime message to the players to pull themselves together and play with more focus.
“In that first 20 we had our heads in our hands,” he said. “We were dwelling on the mistakes we made in the past. We had to be in the moment, focus on what’s in front of us and when we did that we played really well.”
Flyhalf Teti Tela scored first points for Fiji with an eighth-minute penalty and lock Hugh Sinclair gave Australia A the lead with a try, converted by Ryan Lonergan, in the 13th minute.
Lonergan stretched the lead with a penalty before center Seta Tamanivalu scored Fiji's first try, narrowing the Australian team's lead to 10-8. Winger Dylan Pietsch scored in the 28th minute but Fiji replied with a try to captain Levani Botia.
Australia A scored early in the second half through winger Filipo Daugunu and when Fiji again had replied through Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, it closed out the match with a try to Jeremy Williams.
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