HANAZONO, Japan (AFP) – Tonga enjoyed a final flourish at the Rugby World Cup as they beat the United States 31-19 to maintain their 20-year dominance over the Eagles yesterday.
The Pacific side fumbled a series of chances and weathered a late fightback before completing their first victory of the tournament in a tough Pool C.
Captain Siale Piutau, playing his last Test, was among the scorers as Tonga brought up their ninth straight win over America since they lost their first meeting in 1999.
Tonga dominated territory and possession in the first half but they were 12-7 down at the break after poor decisions and handling errors denied them a series of tries.
James Faiva fended off two defenders in a typically adventurous break to create Tonga’s opening score on 16 minutes, setting up prop forward Siegfried Fisi’ihoi who barrelled over from a maul.
But the USA hit back with two tries in five minutes from replacement fullback Mike Te’o, who stepped in smartly from the wing for his first and then found himself in oceans of space for his second.
Tonga should have pulled it back close to half-time but Fisi’ihoi, his eyes lighting up for his second try, dropped the ball on the line under pressure from a defender.
After the break, another Tongan try went begging after slick work from the backs when Telusa Veainu passed the ball into touch when Viliami Lolohea had the line at his mercy.
But Sonatane Takulua knocked over a penalty and Tonga finally regained the lead through Malietoa Hingano after a kick from their own 22 fell kindly for the Tongan runners.