Samoa have qualified for their ninth consecutive Rugby World Cup after defeating Tonga 79-28 on aggregate.
After their 29-point win in Auckland last weekend, Manu Samoa overcame a second half scare to beat the ‘Ikale Tahi 37-15 at FMG Stadium in Hamilton.
For the second week in a row, Western Force centre Henry Taefu individually outscored Tonga, adding another 17 points to the 20 he scored last weekend.
After Tongan captain Sonatane Takulua opened the scoring in the fourth minute, Taefu equalised in the ninth minute, scoring the first of his four penalties, taking the lead four minutes later.
Tonga’s injury concerns continued to grow, with lock Harrison Mataele, hooker Siua Maile and prop Jethro Felemi all substituted in the opening 20 minutes.
Injuries aside, the Tongans also struggled in the wet conditions. Replacement hooker Jay Fonokalafi had a rough start to his international debut, losing six of his first sevens lineouts.
Former Samoa 7s winger, Ed Fidow scored the opening try of the match, with Jonathan Taumateine adding the second two minutes before the half, after Neria Fomai beat four defenders to help set up the try.
Leading 20-3 at the half, Taefu extended the lead three minutes in, before Tonga began to turn things around, as Fonokalafi scored on debut in the 51st minute.
Tonga maintained the pressure, and despite an on-the-ground try saving tackle from Fidow, 42-year-old Sione Tu'ipolotu narrowed the deficit to eight with 24 minutes remaining.
With the Tongans threatening the line again and Tietie Tuimauga in the bin, Samoa turned to their most-capped player Jack Lam, the replacement made an immediate impact winning a crucial ruck, with Tonga just metres from the line.
Samoa ended any hope of a Tongan victory as Stacey Ili collected D'Angelo Leuila’s first-touch chip to extend the lead to 15 with seven minutes remaining.
But Samoa was not finished, adding a fourth try in the 78th minute as Kalolo Tuiloma fell over the line, a minute after the 130kg replacement prop was denied by the TMO.
The series win earns Samoa qualification to Rugby World Cup 2023, and will join England, Argentina, Japan and the Americas 2 qualifier in Pool D.
Manu captain Michael Alaalatoa, whose father Vili played for Samoa at their first Rugby World Cup in 1991, was satisfied with the team’s performance in qualifying for the quadrennial tournament.
“So proud of the boys and the team in what we’ve been able to achieve in what we came here to do. The last four weeks, we’ve been building to this but there is still a long way to go until the World Cup so we’re still building.”
Alaalatoa added that the team needed more gametime as they prepare to play in France in two years.
“More games for us would help, we don’t play enough games. We’ve played four games in a row and look what we’ve done in the four weeks. But in saying that, we’ll make the most of the time we have and our culture is what binds us, so that’s what’s special about being in this team.”
He concluded with thanking Samoan fans around the world throughout this qualifying process, and pledged to do them proud at Rugby World Cup 2023.
“I would just like to thank all our people back in Samoa and all over the world. To all our Samoan people, thank you for your support. We play for you guys, so we’re glad that we can represent you at the World Cup in 2023.”
Tonga, on the other hand, will be looking to take their improved performance to next Saturday’s clash with the Cook Islands in Pukekohe, as they continue their quest for qualification.
“We just got to go back and learn from this. The boys just keep coming out and keep throwing punches”, said ‘Ikale Tahi captain Sonatane Takulua.
“As you can see, we did better than last week. Just got to go work on it and look forward to next week.”
The winner of the in the Asia / Pacific Qualifier next weekend will play the 2021 Asia Rugby champion (either Hong Kong, Malaysia or Korea) for the Asia/Pacific 1 berth, joining world champions South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and the Europe 2 qualifier in Pool B.
Tonga - 15
Tries: Fonokalafi, Tu'ipolotu
Samoa - 37
Tries: Fidow, Taumateine, Ili, Tuiloma
Conversations: Taefu (3)
Penalties: Taefu (4)