Japan and the USA maintained their unbeaten starts to the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2019 to set up a winner-takes-all meeting in Suva next weekend.
The Eagles got round two underway with a slender 13-10 win over Samoa at ANZ Stadium in the Fijian capital as fly-half AJ MacGinty kicked his side to only their second ever win over the Pacific Island nation.
That result leaves Samoa second in Pool B, behind Japan who continued their preparations to host Rugby World Cup 2019 with a comfortable 41-7 defeat of Tonga.
In between those games Fiji, who are set to finish the tournament empty handed for the first time since 2014, recorded their maiden victory of this edition with a 38-13 win over Canada.
Fiji 38-13 Canada
Fiji kick-started their Pacific Nations Cup campaign with a confident bonus-point victory over Canada in Suva.
The defending champions – who suffered a first PNC defeat since 2015 in Japan in round one – were less than a converted try ahead at half-time but kept their visitors scoreless after the break to secure all five points.
It was Canada who opened the scoring at the ANZ Stadium as fly-half Shane O’Leary converted a fifth-minute penalty.
Fiji soon flexed their muscles, however, as Semi Radradra and Kini Murimurivalu worked an overlap on the left wing that allowed Viliame Mata to score in the corner.
O’Leary restored Canada’s lead with his second penalty, but the hosts took control of the contest before the half-hour mark with two tries. The first came via the quick thinking of Peceli Yato, who pounced as the ball spilt out of a Canadian five-metre scrum, while his captain Leone Nakarawa powered over for the second.
Canada trailed 19-6 but had enjoyed periods of possession, and narrowed the deficit before the break as Kainoa Lloyd punished an errant Fijian offload to score in the left corner. O’Leary’s touchline conversion struck an upright before bouncing over but that was as close as Canada would get.
The hosts made sure of their bonus point early in the second half as prop Peni Ravai powered over with the help of Yato and Eroni Sau. And victory was rubber-stamped in the 50th-minute when Josua Tuisova sped down the right wing to score a fine try, having been played into space by Josh Matavesi and Radradra.
Replacement hooker Mesu Dolokoto put the seal on victory with less than 13 minutes remaining, and although Canada ended the match camped inside the Fijian 22 they were unable to breach the try-line for a second time.
Fiji captain Leone Nakarawa said: “I think the boys played really well today, good effort but still areas to work on. First of all [we need to] work on the basics, get the basics right. We know playing with our Pacific brothers [Samoa, next Saturday] it will be physical.”
Canada coach Kingsley Jones said: “We got field position but we didn’t take advantage of that field position. We’ve got to keep improving, I think that was a big improvement on last week.”
USA 13-10 Samoa
USA fly-half AJ MacGinty scored all of his side’s points, including a nerve-jangling late penalty, as the Eagles secured only their second-ever win over Samoa.
MacGinty kicked 15 points against Canada in round one and proved to be the hero yet again as the USA maintained their unbeaten start to Pacific Nations Cup in Suva.
Matches between the two sides have traditionally been tight affairs – Saturday’s result means that six of their seven meetings have been decided by one score or less – and it was the Eagles who broke the deadlock thanks to a second-minute MacGinty penalty.
Samoa soon took the lead, however, as Alapati Leiua stole through a defensive gap to score the game’s opening try. Fly-half AJ Alatimu added the extras to give the Pacific Islanders a four-point cushion.
It was an advantage that would not last the opening quarter, MacGinty picking a good support line to take a pass from Ruben de Haas and crash over from five metres. The Sale Sharks playmaker added the conversion and the USA led 10-7 at half-time.
The Eagles had enjoyed the upper hand in the opening 40 minutes – Leiua’s try came from one of Samoa’s two entries into their 22 during the first period – but the script was flipped on its head in the second.
Samoan pressure finally told on the USA defence with around eight minutes left as Henry Taefu punished a Tony Lamborn indiscretion with three points. That brought the scores level but as the clock ticked past 80 minutes, the USA were able to keep possession and earn a penalty inside Samoan territory. MacGinty then held his nerve to seal victory.
USA captain Blaine Scully said: “It was a really tight contest and I'm not sure either team deserved to lose that. It was an 80-minute arm wrestle. We'll take a lot of lessons out of this match and hopefully learn from them next week.”
Japan 41-7 Tonga
Japan wore black armbands in honour of coach Jamie Joseph’s late mother as they secured a win in Higashiosaka City that was as comfortable as the scoreline suggests.
Tonga will play twice at the Hanazono Rugby Stadium during RWC 2019 and it looked as though they were acclimatising well to their surroundings as an early attack ended with a yellow card for Japan winger Katoro Matsushima, who was adjudged to have knocked on deliberately.
From the resulting lineout fly-half Latiume Fosita hoisted a cross-field kick to the right wing where ‘Atieli Pakalani was waiting in space, however, the ball evaded him in the in-goal area.
And the 14 men of Japan soon made their visitors pay as Amanaki Mafi powered over from close range to open the scoring.
Once back up to their full complement, Japan took control of the contest and ended the first quarter 14-0 in front as Asaeli Ai Valu, who like Mafi was born in Tonga, burrowed over.
The hosts added a third converted try on the half-hour mark as impressive fly-half Yu Tamura delayed his pass perfectly to allow centre Timothy Lafaele to canter over.
Tamura added a penalty early in the second half to stretch Japan’s lead to 24-0, but the hosts were not playing with as much fluency and in the 57th minute Leva Fifita burrowed over the try-line to get Tonga on the scoreboard.
A second Tamura penalty, with 12 minutes remaining, settled any nerves however, and Japan rediscovered their verve to score two tries in the final eight minutes.
Tamura had a hand in the first, putting a grubber through for Matsushima to latch onto but the second was all replacement winger Kenki Fukuoka’s work as he beat two defenders on the touchline before dotting down in the left corner.
Japan captain Michael Leitch said: “We were able to achieve what we wanted to do so I would give eight out of 10 for tonight.”
Japan attack coach Tony Brown added: “I thought the test match was a tough old battle. I just think then when we did score our tries we executed well.”
Tonga captain Siale Piutau said: “It was a tough game. We knew that Japan were going to play a fast tempo game and they capitalised on all our errors.”
Photos: Zoomfiji / Getty Images