Nuku’alofa, 3 August 2015: An electrifying performance from Kurt Morath with the boot, and tries from Halani Aulika, Fetu’u Vainikolo and Sonatane Takulua saw ‘Ikale Tahi secure a hard fought 31 – 20 victory over Japan this morning in beautiful conditions at Swanguard Stadium, Burnaby BC.
Both teams came out hard, and were reasonably evenly matched in a battle that saw Kurt Morath and his Japanese counterpart Ayumu Goromaru featuring heavily with penalty opportunities.
Referee Angus Gardener was also kept busy, with yellow cards handed out in the first half to Nili Latu (Penalty infractions), Michael Leitch from Japan (Offiside play) and late in the second half Japan’s Hayden Hopgood received the third yellow card of the match for pulling a player down in the lineout.
One of the most talked about features of the match was discipline, with Japan renowned for their highly focused game play. After a shaky first two minutes Tonga began to find their feet, although a gift of a try went begging after a high pass from Vunga Lilo failed to connect with Otulea Katoa. Fetu’u Vainikolo was also denied a try off the wing, straying in to touch before crossing the line.
The pressure was finally rewarded when Halani Aulika powered across the line at the 29 minute mark, and put Tonga ahead before Japan hit back quickly with a try of their own through Hendrick Tui.
The second half was all about consistency, with Fetu’u Vainikolo picking up the second try of the match and his fourth for the series as Tonga found pace out wide.
Morath continued to show why he was the top point scorer throughout the series, missing only one of his kicking opportunities, successfully kicking 6 from 7 for the match.
With Hopgood carded at the 70 minute mark Japan was put under a massive amount of pressure. Tonga maintained their resolve, winding the clock down before Sonatane Takulua put the final nail in, crossing at the 79 minute mark to seal victory for ‘Ikale Tahi.
The win is Tonga’s third in a row, and will give the team a huge lift as they head into preparation for Rugby World Cup. Once the festivities of the Pacific Nations Cup have concluded the team will have a brief break before convening in England late next week ahead of a match in Nottingham on August 28.
Picture Credit: Scott Anderson / Tonga Rugby Union