Fiji have become the second nation to emerge from the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying process after a 14-10 victory over Tonga in Nuku’alofa on Saturday saw them confirmed as the Oceania 1 qualifier.
That narrow victory at Teufaiva Stadium means Fiji will join Australia, Wales, Georgia and the Americas 2 qualifier (Canada or Uruguay) in Pool D at Japan 2019.
The Oceania 2 qualifier will be confirmed next weekend after the final match of the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2017 between Fiji and Samoa in Apia.
The World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup across 2016 and 2017 is the vehicle by which the Oceania qualifiers are determined and Fiji’s win gives them 12 points, putting them out of reach of Tonga and Samoa on six and five points respectively.
Samoa must therefore get something out of their meeting with Fiji if they are to beat Tonga to the Oceania 2 place and avoid a battle with a European team and potentially also the repechage to qualify. Samoa’s points difference is significantly better (+31) than the ‘Ikale Tahi’s if they were to both finish with six competition points across the two editions of the Pacific Nations Cup.
Tonga, with the losing bonus point picked up against Fiji, top the Pacific Nations Cup 2017 standings after their 30-26 win over Samoa last weekend, albeit only by a single point from their conquerors.
With another crowd of 10,000 people packed into Teufaiva Stadium, the first half was a very tense affair with few scoring opportunities. Tonga appeared to have the upper hand in the scrum and close exchanges, while Fiji launched some promising attacks but could not find a way through a strong and willing home defence.
The first half would end tryless, Fiji fly-half Ben Volavola opening the scoring with a penalty before scrum-half Sonatane Takulua cancelled that out with a kick of his own after 21 minutes. Takulua had an opportunity to edge the hosts ahead but missed a second penalty attempt on the half hour so the two rivals went into half-time locked at 3-3.
The second half began in a different fashion and prop Siegfried Fisihoi sent the home crowd into a frenzy when he scored the first try within six minutes of the restart, Takulua making no mistake with the conversion to put Tonga ahead 10-3.
Fiji’s response was swift, though, with full-back Timoci Nagusa doing some great work in the lead up to second-row Leone Nakarawa (pictured) running in for a try to cut the deficit to two points after Volavola was unable to add the conversion.
With both Toutai Kefu and John McKee starting to make changes off the bench the score remained at 10-8 until the 65th minute when Volavola kicked his second penalty to edge Fiji into a one-point lead. The fly-half then added a third with six minutes to go after a period of Fijian pressure.
That set up a tense final five minutes in which both teams tried to fashion an attack, but with defences holding firm the game was played out near halfway, leaving Fiji able to celebrate their RWC 2019 place and move on to Apia with the intention of defending their Pacific Nations Cup title.