3 Jul 2017

Sport: 'Ikale Tahi hold on for famous win at Teufaiva

2:15 pm on 3 July 2017

Tonga rugby coach Toutai Kefu says home crowd support inspired them to victory against Samoa at the weekend, keeping alive their hopes of automatic Rugby World Cup qualification.

The 'Ikale Tahi triumphed 30-26 in Nuku'alofa, in front of ten thousand fervent supporters in the first test match at Teufaiva Stadium for eight years.

The home side raced out to a 14-3 lead in the opening 20 minutes but Manu Samoa closed the gap to one point at half-time, courtesy of a Faifili Levave try and two more penalties from Tusi Pisi.

Tonga captain Siale Piutau and Samoa's David Lemi in Nuku'alofa.

Tonga captain Siale Piutau and Samoa's David Lemi in Nuku'alofa. Photo: Oceania Rugby

With the match in the balance at 20-19, halfback Sonatone Takulua completed a breakaway Tongan try from inside their own half and added the extras to make it 30-19 with half an hour to play.

Alapati Leiua scored to cut the deficit to four points but, despite a number of attacking opportunities in the final quarter of the match Samoa were unable to breach the Tongan defence again.

Toutai Kefu said the home side showed character to hold on for a crucial victory but still have plenty to improve on.

"We still have lapses of game management (and) we struggled to take simple choices and execute simple decisions," he said.

"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves by just not exiting clinically but those are things we can fix and I think the problem that we have is just having the time together.

"There were a few things we were working on the last couple of weeks and one of those things was just getting a better defensive shape when it starts to get a little bit messy, when there's a lot of turnover ball.

"We improved in that part. I thought our set-piece also took a couple of steps forward - even some individual performance, I though the majority of them were on the improve as well."

Tonga rugby coach Toutai Kefu

Tonga rugby coach Toutai Kefu Photo: Photosport

Halfback Sonatone Takulua was one of Tonga's best performers against Wales two weeks ago and Kefu said the halfback had another standout performance on home soil.

"Not only for this campaign but in November as well," he said.

"It's been a problem position, I think, halfback, for Tonga in the past.

"Now that we have a quality quality halfback it just helps a lot - I think halfback is the most important position on the field."

Tonga halfback Sonatone Takulua.

Tonga halfback Sonatone Takulua. Photo: AFP

Toutai Kefu experienced playing at Teufaiva Stadium during his playing days and said it was a huge occasion for the 'Ikale Tahi team to experience a home crowd for the first time since 2009.

"At the end of the day the public are really engaged with this team and they love this team so you're going to get the best support ever in front of a home crowd and it showed on Saturday," he said.

"It probably got us over the line in the end so the boys spoke about it after the game how special an experience it was and how important it was for them to experience that."

Late push not enough for Samoa

Manu Samoa coach Alama Ieremia says his team created enough opportunities to win in Nuku'alofa but failed to take their chances.

With time up on the clock, Samoa had a driving maul held up over the Tongan goal-line as they pushed for the match-winning try to no avail.

Manu Samoa coach Alama Ieremia

Manu Samoa coach Alama Ieremia Photo: Photosport

Ieremia said they turned over too much ball in the final 20 minutes.

"I take my hat off to the boys that they fought really hard until the end and especially getting the ball over the line in the last seconds there," he said.

"To not actually be awarded that try was I suppose a heartbreaker really in the end but leading into that we had other opportunities that we just didn't capitalise on.

"And at test level if you don't capitalise on those then you obviously come off second best so we left the run too late and obviously we've suffered for it."

Alama Ieremia said the squad is "hurting" but determined to learn from their mistakes.

"This group has really, they've stuck together really strongly and the team belief and the self belief amongst the group is unwavered," he said.

"They know that we've been heading in the right direction and they knew that the last two test matches (against Wales and Tonga) were within their grasp.

"And we've got no one else to look at apart from ourselves and the small things and the critical moments...these are the hard ones to take but I certainly know they will make the team a lot stronger."

Samoa and Tonga are now level on five points in the Pacific Nations Cup standings, three points behind defending champions Fiji, who play in Nuku'alofa and Apia over the coming fortnight.

The Manu remain ahead of Tonga on points differential, with only the top two earning automatic qualification to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

"Our fate is out of our hands now - we have to wait to see what Tonga and Fiji come through next week so it's a waiting game for us," he said.

"We just need to get through the week and refocus and know exactly where we stand after that match (on Saturday) but we will certainly be looking forward to facing Fiji (next weekend) no matter what."