Fiji hold out determined Samoa

Kagifa Samoa have fallen just six points short of Fijian Latui in an enthralling game at Navigation Homes Stadium in New Zealand. Trailing by as much as 19 in the closing stages of the first half, Kagifa Samoa outscored Fiji four tries to one in a strong run home.

Having flagged the importance of a fast start, Kagifa Samoa had the ball parked in their offensive half for the better part of the opening five minutes, however, the ever present danger posed by Fijian Latui saw them register the first score of the game.

The Fijian’s took full advantage when handed excellent field position following an errant kick from Kagifa Samoa that floated out of bounds despite coming from inside the home side’s defensive 22*.

*Rapid Rugby law variations penalise any kick that goes out on the full by giving the ball to the opposition at the spot it was kicked – read more about how Rapid Rugby is at the forefront of rugby innovation*

While we have become accustomed to seeing Fiji’s expansive running style result in tries, this one came about from forward grit with prop Luke Tagi barrelling his way over the try line amongst a mass of bodies.

While Fijian Latui has struggled with their goal kicking in their opening two matches, Apisalome Waqatabu stepped up confidently and nailed the conversion to eek out maximum value from the scoring opportunity.

Disappointed to have given the early advantage to their opposition, Kagifa Samoa skipper Leon Fukofuka hit back shortly after. The impressive scrumhalf waited patiently while his forwards rumbled forward before taking the ball off the back the maul at just the right time and used his powerful frame to crash past three defenders and dot the ball down.

As Rapid Rugby has a tendency to do, the crowd hardly had time to find their seats after the Fukofuka try when they were up again cheering another when Jone Manu stole the ball following the restart and sprinted 30 meters to take off and fly across the try line. Again, the conversion was successful.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – JUNE 07: Fans during the Rapid Rugby match between Samoa Kagifa and Fijian Latui at Navigation Homes Stadium on June 07, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

That would be the start of a dominant 10-minute burst that saw three tries scored by Fijian Latui. Manu’s try was backed up by Mesulame Dolokoto who made the most of a well-executed rolling maul, while flyhalf Enele Malele finished off the impressive period for the visitors. Malele’s try was perhaps the pick of the bunch with the Fijian backs putting on full display the quick ball movement that Kagifa Samoa were on red alert for.

While the lead was now 19 it could have been more had they converted Dolokoto and Malele’s efforts, however the Fijian Latui coaching staff would have been happy to have that buffer going into half time.

Kagifa Samoa had other ideas and, in what is becoming an increasingly more common occurrence in Rapid Rugby games, they scored a try after the hooter had sounded. After driving the ball up the field, a well taken line-out saw them set up a maul and JP Sauni did the rest. Sauni had been in the thick of the action throughout the first half and it was appropriate that he was the one to give his side a confidence boost going into the sheds.

The second half started with Kagifa Samoa backs Zac Guildford and Tino Mafoe both applying try saving tackles as Fijian Latui launched a number of clinical attacking moves. Samoa’s defensive efforts weren’t helped when they lost Fukofuka for 10 minutes after a number of infringements by the team finally tried the patience of referee Cam Stone.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – JUNE 07: Zac Guildford of Kagifa Samoa passes in a tackle during the Rapid Rugby match between Samoa Kagifa and Fijian Latui at Navigation Homes Stadium on June 07, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Despite being a man short, Kagifa Samoa made the first breakthrough of the second half as flyhalf Luke Makris cleverly directed play out wide before receiving the ball back on a nicely timed run. Plucked from local side Counties Manukau, Makris was was all smiles as he scored a try in his first Rapid Rugby match and finished off his good work with a successful conversion.

With their lead now just five the Fijian side were definitely feeling the heat and you could sense a lift in intensity from the visitors. An impressive counter ruck by Elia Canakaivata caught Samoa off guard and enabled Peni Naulago to swoop in. The big lock showed a handy turn of pace, throwing his 118kg frame at defenders who were powerless to stop him charging over the try line. The successful conversion took the lead back out to 12.

It was a double whammy for Kagifa Samoa who lost Makris to a leg injury, forcing them to rejig their back-line set-up.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – JUNE 07: Peni Naulago of Fijian Latui scores a try during the Rapid Rugby match between Samoa Kagifa and Fijian Latui at Navigation Homes Stadium on June 07, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The next 10 minutes saw both sides try hard to gain the ascendency, Guidlford in particular was impressive to watch, his vision and change of pace gave a glimpse of why he was able to win 11 caps for the All Blacks.

Malele broke the deadlock with a well taken penalty goal to give the visitors a 15 point buffer, however the game was turned on its head when Fijian Latui lost two players to the sin bin in the space of a minute. The second yellow, handed to reserve back Meli Nakarawa, resulted in a penalty try being awarded to Kagifa Samoa.

Fiji had to dig deep and play smart, fortunately two things they’re pretty good at doing. Instead of chancing risky long passes, they kept the ball in hand and took it into contact before resetting and going again. This tactic earned them a penalty goal attempt which they successfully slotted, taking the lead back out to double digits.

Knowing they needed at least two converted tries to win, Kagifa Samoa won a line out deep in their attacking zone and again used a rolling maul to great effect. Reserve prop Andrew Stowers kept the ball close before peeling off the back and delivering a handy offload in traffic to Kalione Hala who dived over in the corner. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to covert his own try and the difference remained six points with 3 minutes remaining.

Fijian Latui were back to a full compliment of 15 with a minute and a half to go and had good field position as they looked to hold until the final hooter sounded. It was too much of an ask however to keep the ball away from the Samoan’s for that duration and with under 30 seconds remaining the home side found themselves with the ball and decided to chance their arm by pushing it wide from one touchline to the other while in goal.

It was an audacious attempt to find some space and it almost got the break they were hoping for but it was shut down by an attempted intercept that very nearly came off for Fiji. With the ball knocked on, Kagifa Samoa retained possession and despite their best efforts, they weren’t able to find that last piece of magic required to win the game.

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Kagifa Samoa suit up again next week in Brisbane when they take on the Western Force on Saturday, 15 June 2019 at Ballymore Stadium – find out more about this match.


Kagifa Samoa

Starting XV: 1.Mark ROYAL, 2.JP SAUNI, 3.Sam AIONO, 4.Michael MCKEE, 5.Nili MOALA, 6.Callum ADAMS, 7.Fotu LOKOTUI, 8.Dylan LAM, 9.Leon FUKOFUKA (C), 10.Luke MAKRIS, 11.Kalione HALA, 12.Pakisonasi AFU, 13.Tino MAFOE, 14.Ah Mu TUIMALEALIIFANO, 15.Zac GUILDFORD

Reserves: 16.Frank MALU, 17.Andrew STOWERS, 18.Daniel ANAE, 19.Sione TUIPULOTU, 20.Laga FASAVALU, 21.Siaosi NGININGINI, 22.Tali FINAU, 23.Maui HAUSIA

Fijian Latui

Starting XV: 1.Joeli VEITAYAKI, 2.Mesulame DOLOKOTO, 3.Luke TAGI, 4.Peni NAULAGO, 5.Isikeli NABOU, 6.Mosese VOKA (C), 7.Elia CANAKAIVATA, 8.Peni RAIDRE, 9.Frank LOMANI, 10.Enele MALELE, 11.Lepani RAIYALA, 12.Jone MANU, 13.Joeli LUTUMAILAGI, 14.Ifereimi TOVILEVU, 15.Apisalome WAQATABU

Reserves: 16.Veremalua VUGAKOTO,17.Eroni MAWI, 18.Apisai VATUBULI, 19.Vatilai MATAKCA, 20.Timoci DAVU, 21.Fabiano NAVABALE, 22.Apisalome VOTA, 23.Meli NAKARAWA

Match Officials

Referee: Cam STONE, AR1: Marcus PLAYLE, AR2: Maggie COGGER-ORR, TMO: Lee JEFFERY

First Half

11:35L.Tagi (FL)TryFijian Latui by 50 – 5
12:11A.Waqatabu (FL)ConversionFijian Latui by 70 – 7
16:57L.Fukofuka (KS)TryFijian Latui by 25 – 7
19:13J.Manu (FL)TryFijian Latui by 75 – 12
20:03A.Waqatabu (FL)ConversionFijian Latui by 95 – 14
26:49M.Dolokoto (FL)TryFijian Latui by 145 – 19
29:29E.Tikotani Malele (FL)TryFijian Latui by 195 – 24
36:13J.Sauni (KS)TryFijian Latui by 1410 – 24
37:01L.Makris (KS)ConversionFijian Latui by 1212 – 24

Second Half

6:59L.Makris (KS)TryFijian Latui by 717 – 24
8:13L.Makris (KS)ConversionFijian Latui by 519 – 24
9:13P.Naulago (FL)TryFijian Latui by 1019 – 29
10:05A.Waqatabu (FL)ConversionFijian Latui by 1219 – 31
20:23E.Tikotani Malele (FL)Penalty GoalFijian Latui by 1519 – 34
25:18Team (KS)Penalty TryFijian Latui by 826 – 34
27:40E.Tikotani Malele (FL)Penalty GoalFijian Latui by 1126 – 37
31:07K.Hala (KS)TryFijian Latui by 631 – 37

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