Fiji, Georgia post narrow wins in Pacific Nations Cup
SUVA, Fiji (AP) — Europe-based stars Vereniki Goneva and Kini Murimurivalu scored tries, each created by the other, as Fiji opened defense of its Pacific Nations Cup rugby title Saturday with a tense 24-22 win over Samoa.
Fiji led 24-3 before Samoa scored three tries in a late rally which rocked the defending champions. Earlier at Suva, Georgia beat Tonga 16-15 in similar circumstances, holding on after leading 16-3.
La Rochelle’s Murimurivalu scored Fiji’s first try from a pass by Goneva and Newcastle’s Goneva scored the team’s fourth and last try from an offload by Murimurivalu.
Classy flyhalf Ben Volavola scored a superb solo try but failed with the boot, kicking only two of five shots at goal.
Fiji’s largest concern before it faces Georgia next weekend was its discipline. It had two players, including captain Akapusi Qera, sin-binned in the first half and another in the second as it came close to surrendering what had seemed an insurmountable lead.
“We know discipline let us down today,” Qera said. There were a lot of silly penalties, three yellow cards and that’s not the standard we are trying to set.”
Samoa dominated the first and last quarters but had only a penalty to show for its early ascendancy and Fiji’s ability to snatch try-scoring opportunities separated the teams.
Murimurivalu scored the opening try from an in-pass from Goneva. Volavola sold a dummy and ran in untouched from 30 meters for the second try and scrumhalf Henry Seniloli touched down to give Fiji a 17-3 lead at halftime.
Goneva scored at the start of the second half after Murimurivalu won the ball in the air and handed off to Goneva who was tackled but not held near the goalline.
From 24-3 down, Samoa rallied with tries to scrumhalf Melani Matavao, flanker Jack Lam and replacement Dwayne Polataivao but finally ran out of time.
Fullback Soso Matiashvili scored all of his teams points as Georgia beat a fast-finishing Tonga 16-15.
Matiashvili converted his own try in the sixth minute and kicked three penalties which gave Georgia a 13-3 lead at halftime and a 16-3 lead early in the second half.
Georgia had dominated the match through its powerful forward pack and Matiashvili’s boot in the first half. But Tonga’s scrum improved immeasurably after halftime, helped by the fact Georgia lost two players to yellow cards in the second half.
By the final quarter Tonga was dominating territory and possession and Georgia was hanging on by its fingernails.
A strong scrum and a powerful run by fullback Sione Fifita set up a 32nd-minute try for replacement Viliami Lolohea.
Tonga pressed back on attack and, with Georgia again down to 14 men, worked an overlap from a quickly tapped penalty. Flyhalf Kurt Morath’s flick pass created an overlap for winger David Halaifonua to score in the left corner.
Scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua converted to close the gap to one point but Georgia held on to posts its second straight win over Tonga.
“Of course I’m really happy with my team,” Georgia captain Giorgi Nemsadze said. “We know Tonga’s team is a very strong, very physical team but we were ready for that ... we played with heart.”