Tonga ended their World Cup on a high with a hard-fought 31-19 win over the USA in Osaka on Sunday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Pacific Islanders would have been left wondering how they trailed for so long in this game after being as dominant as they were. Despite enjoying 69% of territory and 62% possession in the first half, Tonga made far too many handling errors just when it looked like they would get over the tryline.
Part of the credit must go to an excellent scramble defence from the USA, who were ahead thanks to a two-minute brace from fullback Mike Te’o. The USA were not particularly dominant in any area, but took their chances when it counted to take a 12-7 lead at the break. While they ended their campaign in a disappointing defeat, there is plenty for Gary Gold to be happy with as they have pushed stronger sides very close.
Tonga opened the scoring when loosehead Siegfried Fisi’ihoi forced his way over after an excellent linebreak from Viliami Lolohea. Tonga nearly levelled the scores when Fisi’ihoi was put free near the corner, but a heroic tackle from Ruben de Haas forced a knock-on just before half-time.
The second half continued the pattern of the first, with Tonga getting close to the USA tryline before finding a way to lose possession. The USA managed to get more of the ball, but were also denied by some strong defending. While it looked like Tonga would be frustrated again, scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua knocked over a penalty to reduce the deficit to two points.
Tonga eventually managed to find a decisive try when a counter-attack started in their own half ended with outside centre Malietoa Hingano scoring and putting them into the lead. Siale Piutau vitally give Tonga a two-score advantage when he scampered through a gap to score. Despite Tony Lamborn’s try bringing the USA within five points with three minutes to go, Tonga sealed the win when fullback Telusa Veainu dotted down after the full-time hooter.
USA – Tries: Mike Te’o (2), Tony Lamborn. Conversions: AJ MacGinty (2).
Tonga – Tries: Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, Malietoa Hingano, Siale Piutau, Telusa Veainu. Conversions: Sonatane Takulua (2), James Faiva, Piutau. Penalty: Takulua.
USA – 15 Will Hooley, 14 Blaine Scully (c), 13 Bryce Campbell, 12 Paul Lasike, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Ruben de Haas, 8 Cam Dolan, 7 Malon Al-Jiboori, 6 Tony Lamborn, 5 Nick Civetta, 4 Greg Peterson, 3 Titi Lamositele, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 1 Eric Fry.
Subs: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Olive Kilifi, 18 Paul Mullen, 19 Ben Landry, 20 Hanco Germishuys, 21 Ben Pinkelman, 22 Nate Augspurger, 23 Mike Te’o.
Tonga – 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Atieli Pakalani, 13 Malietoa Hingano, 12 Siale Piutau (c), 11 Viliami Lolohea, 10 James Faiva, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Zane Kapeli, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Halaleva Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi.
Subs: 16 Siua Maile, 17 Vunipola Fifita, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Dan Fale
Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images