With one round left to play, Fiji Warriors head the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2023 table with a perfect record of 10 points and are all but certain of a 10th competition title.
Having opened their campaign with a 72-15 win over reigning champions Junior Japan in round one, Senirusi Seruvakula’s side achieved their second bonus-point win on Monday, defeating Manuma Samoa 50-25.
Fiji Warriors are five points clear of Manuma Samoa and Junior Japan, who opened their account in round two with a 52-17 win over bottom-of-the-table Tonga A.
One point in their final encounter against Tonga A on Saturday will secure Fiji Warriors their first title in the round-robin event since 2019 regardless of the outcome of the last match of the day between Manuma Samoa and Junior Japan.
Strong finish from Fiji Warriors
It took a strong second-half showing from Fiji Warriors to overcome a Manuma Samoa side that gave as good as they got in the first 40.
The lead changed hands three times in truly electric first half which produced seven tries and ended with the Fiji Warriors holding a slender two-point advantage at the break.
Manuma Samoa had raced into an early 10-0 lead when Afa Moleli opened the scoring with a penalty and then converted Uta Taaititi’s try.
But Fiji Warriors stormed back to score tries through Taitusi Lulusini and Sireli Masiwini, the first converted by Jack Volavola.
Moleli nudged his side one point in front with his second penalty but Fiji Warriors put some daylight between the teams by scoring twice, although John Muller and Tevita Sabola’s tries went unconverted.
A second Taaititi try and Moleli’s conversion meant it was still all to play for in the second half with Fiji Warriors ahead by 22-20.
Within 80 seconds of the restart, Manuma Samoa were back in front as Bitner Tafili scored their bonus-point try.
Enele Tikotani’s 53rd-minute penalty for Fiji Warriors levelled the scores at 25-25 while both teams were down to 14 men following a yellow card apiece, and this time there was no looking back.
Tikotani kicked another penalty approaching the hour mark before Fiji Warriors took the game away from Manuma Samoa with tries from Motikiai Murray, Jonathan Sovasova and Tevita Sabola in addition to two conversions and a further penalty from the boot of Tikotani.
Imano stars for Junior Japan
Ryohei Imano became the sixth hat-trick scorer for Junior Japan in World Rugby Pacific Challenge history as they defeated Tonga A 52-17 in the first match of the day in Apia.
Imano scored twice before half-time and added a third with an hour gone, by which time the game was over as a contest.
Taison Mogami also crossed in the first half as Junior Japan went into the break 19-5 up but most of the damage was done thereafter with Takashi Omoto and Shota Taira getting in on the act before Kota Nagashima rounded off proceedings with a quickfire brace,
Shota Taira and Yoshiki Omachi shared six conversions equally between them as Junior Japan fell one point short of a competition record win over Tonga A.
Tonga A scored their first try on the stroke of half-time through Manu Ahokovi and Kalisitiane Fiva and Koliniusi Lepa added their names to the scoresheet in the second half.
The World Rugby Pacific Challenge provides locally based players with an opportunity to develop their skills in a competitive environment.
Twenty-three members of each 28-man squad must be aged 23 or younger at the start of the tournament with the remaining five players any age over 18.
Junior Japan opted to field their under-20 team in the competition in preparation for the World Rugby U20 Championship in June.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/PACNEWS