Wales beat willing Tonga

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 07:34
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MATCH REPORT: Wales left it late, but recorded a satisfactory 24-6 win over Tonga in a wet Auckland on Friday.

The match, part of the Pasifika Challenge series, struggled to get going as the notorious New Zealand winter weather made life decidedly unpleasant for the two teams.

With 10 minutes to go Tonga would have thought they were still in the game at just 6-14 down.

However, a penalty and a penalty try right on the full-time hooter blew the score out to an 18-point win.

Wales, who were missing Test regulars and their coach because of the British and Irish Lions tour, will take heart from the performance.

It was a match highlighted by bone-jarring tackles as Wales took a battering from a determined Tonga side on their way to maintaining their unbeaten record against the Pacific Islanders after eight Tests.

They led 8-3 at half-time with an Alex Cuthbert try and a penalty by Davies, while Sonatane Takulua kicked a penalty for Tonga.

In the second half, as steady drizzle made handling difficult, Takulua closed the gap with his second penalty, before Davies added three more for Wales.

The match, serving as the curtain-raiser for the All Blacks-Samoa Test directly afterwards, was originally scheduled to be played in Nuku'alofa - but was relocated to New Zealand after facilities in the Tongan capital were deemed inadequate.

With 12 players and regular coach Warren Gatland away on British and Irish Lions duty, Jamie Roberts' cobbled-together Wales side, with three debutants in the starting line-up and six on the bench, were determined to make an emphatic statement.

They were on attack from the opening whistle and had points on the board within three minutes from the first Davies penalty.

From there it became an enterprising but error-ridden spectacle as Wales produced an attacking game but without the necessary finishing touches to put away the Pacific islanders.

Tonga relished the physicality, and delighted in sending a stream of ball-carriers charging upfield as far as they could.

But when they drew in the defence they showed no inclination to make the most of the space that opened up out wide.

Cuthbert was denied a try in the second minute of the game when the right wing grazed the touchline in a crunching tackle by huge Tongan prop Latu Talakai.

The first points came a minute later with a handy penalty from Davies who had a patchy day with the boot, missing two further penalty attempts and a conversion in the first half.

Cuthbert eventually found his way to the tryline 15 minutes later when Gareth Anscombe stepped around Vilihami Tahitua, paving the way for the Cardiff Blues flier to chip ahead and regather the ball to score wide out.

Takulua put Tonga in the game with a penalty in the 21st minute and only a desperate tackle by Steff Evans, playing his maiden Test, stopped him from scoring a few minutes later.

He landed a second penalty early in the second half to close the gap to 8-6 before Davies landed three further penalties for Wales.

In the last play of the game Wales were awarded a penalty try when Tonga were penalised for collapsing a rolling maul on the tryline.

Man of the match: Plenty of big hits from the Tongans - especially from the likes of David Halaifonua and captain Siale Piutau. Halaifonua also had some decent runs with the ball in hand. Jamie Roberts was powerful with ball in hand, as always, and kicked cleverly. Sam Davies kicked the goals that got his team in ascendancy and was tactically astute. Aaron Shingler was the most energetic of the Welsh forwards. However, Welsh fullback Gareth Anscombe, in very difficult conditions, mopped up very nicely at the back and showed some neat touches on the counter attack. He is our Man of the Match.

The scorers:

For Tonga:
Pens:
 Takalua 2

For Wales:
Tries:
 Cuthbert, Penalty try
Con: Penalty tries don't require a conversion
Pens: S Davies 4

Teams:

Tonga: 15 David Halaifonua, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Siale Piutau (captain), 12 Viliami Tahitu'a, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Latiume Fosita, 9 Tane Takalua, 8 Valentino Mapapalangi, 7 Nili Latu, 6 Dan Faleafa, 5 Sitiveni Mafi, 4 Leva Fifita, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Latu Talakai.
Replacements: 16 Suliasi Taufalele, 17 Sila Puafisi, 18 Phil Kite, 19 Sione Tau, 20 Michael Faleafa, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Kali Hala, 23 Kitione Taimani.

Wales: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts (captain), 11 Steffan Evans, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Ellis Jenkin, 20 Ollie Griffiths, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Cory Allen.

Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)