The China Lions scored a hard-fought 29-22 away victory over the Fijian Latui in the Global Rapid Rugby season opener at ANZ Stadium in Suva.
It was an evenly matched contest with both teams showing a willingness to run the ball in true Rapid Rugby spirit, despite slippery conditions. The scores were tied at 10-all at the break
The Latui opened the scoring in the ninth minute, with flyhalf Teti Tela kicking a penalty after several strong forays into the Lions 22. The flyhalf missed an opportunity to double the lead on 26 minutes, pushing a long range penalty effort wide of the uprights.
Latui number eight Eremasi Radroro scored the first-ever try in a full Rapid Rugby season, wrong footing the Lions defence after his side had secured good lineout ball on the edge of the Lions 22. Tela added the conversion to make it 10-0.
The Lions bounced back three minutes later when winger Fa’asui Fuatai sliced through after a Lions lineout inside the Latui 22. Utility back Dan Hollinshead converted to reduce the deficit to three points at 10-7.
Hollinshead levelled the scores at 10-10 with a penalty on the stroke of halftime.
The Lions started the second half with two quick scores, moving into a 22-10 lead after being awarded a penalty try, which saw Latui wing John Stuart sin-binned for an early tackle on Fuatai, and then scoring their third try through flank Ray Tatafu as the Lions pressed home their one-man advantage. Hollinshead converted one of the tries.
The Latui responded well despite being a man down. Some strong running from flyhalf Tela at the Lions defence created space for wing Lapani Reiyala to cross the Lions line. Tela converted to reduce the deficit to five points at 22-17.
Midway through the half the Lions were reduced to 14 men when Tatafu was yellow-carded for foul play at the breakdown.
Fiji exploited their numerical advantage with a raft of attacks at the Lions line, being rewarded when wing Apisalome Vota rounded off after a strong five metre scrum by the pack. Tela missed the conversion and the scores were level at 22-all.
With seven minutes to play, the Lions reclaimed the lead when centre James Little rounded off after the Lions had held the ball through several phases. Hollinshead added the extra points to put the Lions 29-22 in front.
Despite a spirited fight back by the home side in the closing stages, the visitors held on for a famous victory.
Latui: tries Eremasi Radroro, Lepani Raiyala, Apisalome Vota, conversions Teti Tela 2, penalties Tela.
Lions: tries Fa’asui Fuatai, penalty try, Ray Tatafu, James Little, conversions Dan Hollinshead 3, penalties Hollinshead.