Fiji Warriors have one hand on the World Rugby Pacific Challenge trophy after beating Junior Japan 39-16 to remain unbeaten after two rounds of the 2017 competition on home soil in Suva.
The defending champions have a maximum 10 points after two bonus point wins and will conclude their campaign against Samoa A on Saturday.
Tonga A lie second in the standings on five points, on points difference from Junior Japan, after emerging the 30-22 winners over Samoa A in Tuesday’s other match at the ANZ Stadium.
FIJI WARRIORS 39-16 JUNIOR JAPAN
The two unbeaten sides from round one came together in the Fijian capital and it was Junior Japan who took the lead with a second-minute penalty from scrum-half Naoto Saito.
Jonetani Ralulu quickly cancelled out that penalty to draw the Warriors level, but number eight Tevita Tatafu – who had scored a hat-trick in Junior Japan’s win over Samoa A in round one – restored the lead with the first try of the match.
Three tries in a blistering eight-minute spell from Fiji Warriors, though, turned the match in their favour to the delight of the home crowd with winger Apete Daveta, Ralulu (pictured) and hooker Samuela Suguturaga all touching down.
Fly-half Ralulu converted all three to make it 24-10 in the Warriors’ favour before two Saito penalties cut the deficit the eight points at half-time.
Fiji Warriors increased that cushion when flanker Jiuta Takubu scored the bonus-point try in the 52nd minute and the score remaining at 31-16 until Serupepeli Vularika kicked a penalty for the home side.
There was still time for one more try with replacement Cyril Reece dotting down in the dying minutes to leave the Warriors within touching distance of a successful defence of the Pacific Challenge.
Fiji coach Senirusi Seruvakula, though, knows there is plenty to work on ahead of their final match with Samoa A.
"It was a tough game. We had looked at their matches and they love to play a very fast game, but we came out here and we did not have a good start," said Seruvakula.
"We lifted after 20 minutes and the main concern was our focus and our lack of discipline. We were giving away a lot of penalties and we can't do that in our last game against Samoa. We worked on our mistakes after the Tonga match and we are still doing the same thing so we need to work on that before we meet Samoa.
SAMOA A 22-30 TONGA A
Both teams were eager to bounce back after opening day losses and it was Samoa A, runners-up in 2016, who made the better start with winger Danny Tusitala crossing for the opening try as early as the eighth minute.
However, that try and captain Patrick Faapele's conversion would be the last points the Samoans would score in the first half as Tonga A took control with full-back James Faiva kicking two penalties and adding the conversion to Topui Sekona's try.
Centre Feofaaki Kaumavae scored Tonga A's first try at the half hour mark but Faiva was unable to convert. A yellow card to Samoa A number eight Tietie Tuimauga late in the first half proved costly with his opposite number Sekona going over in his absence to give the Tongans an 18-7 lead at the break.
Faapele cut the deficit with a penalty, but Tonga A's lead was stretched again when Kaumavae crossed for his second try of the match with more than 20 minutes still to play at ANZ Stadium. Samoa A then lost another player to the sin-bin in flanker Daniel Hytongue and just before his return, Tonga A wrapped up the bonus point when winger Tuikakavalu Ika touched down.
That made it 30-10 to Tonga A, but the Samoans did stage a late rally with a penalty try – worth seven points under the global law trials being used in the Pacific Challenge – and then one at the death through replacement Junior Malielegaoi while Tonga A had Constantin Kauvaka in the sin-bin.
"Both teams played their hearts out, but on the back of two losses it is hard to take. We have to take it on the chin and do the best we can do to get up for the Fiji game as a kind of redemption game," said Samoa A vice-captain Jeff Lepa.
"We have a lot to work on. I think it is important to come together as a team, chemistry is important and we have just have to keep strong in the team and keep everyone positive. We know what we need to work on, we just need to show up."
Photos: Kitione Rokomanu / Zoomfiji