WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Tonga got their first victory in their final match of the Pacific Nations Cup when they fought off a late surge from Canada to triumph 33-23 in Fiji on Friday and leave the North Americans winless in the six-team tournament.
The Tongans were beaten by Samoa in an Apia mudbath in their tournament opener and thrashed by Japan in Osaka last week to leave a big question mark over their World Cup preparations.
Tries from fullback David Halaifonua, winger Viliami Lolohea and centre Malietoa Hingano, though, had them well in charge with a 19-8 lead at halftime in front of a sparse crowd in Fiji’s second city Lautoka on Friday.
The Canadians, well-beaten by the United States and Fiji in their first two matches, were struggling to contain the powerful Tongan runners but got a try of their own just before the break when winger Jeff Hassler got over in the corner.
Replacement prop Latu Talakai got the Pacific islanders off to the best possible start in the second half when he bowled over the line for the fourth Tongan try after some more hard running from his team mates.
The Canadians hit back just after the hour mark when Tonga failed to deal with a crosskick and replacement winger Patrick Parfrey pounced to reduce the deficit to 26-13.
The Tongans continued to be too strong when they ran straight and hard and replacement loose forward Sione Vailanu got his reward for a fine display when he flew over the line, leaving Canada with too much to do in the last eight minutes.
“Well-deserved win for the boys,” said Tonga skipper Siale Piutau.
“We’re just trying to get fitter, stronger so we’re ready for the tier one teams at the World Cup.”
The Canadians never gave up and a Tongan mistake allowed flyer DTH van der Merwe to race away for a third try before slick handling after yet another turnover a couple of minutes later enabled Hassler to nab his second.
“I think we have probably finished some games well but the first half hasn’t gone as well as well as we would have liked,” said Canada captain Tyler Ardron.
“That’s something we’ll have to work on heading to the World Cup.”
World Cup hosts Japan face the U.S. in Suva on Saturday in a match that will decide who wins the title before Fiji host Samoa in the final match of the tournament a few hours later at the same venue.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)