A Fijian intercept to Tyrone Phillips ended up being the difference as the Bati overcome an early barrage by the Samoans to take the win in a highly entertaining game.
The third ever meeting between these sides was the first rugby league Test to be played on Samoan soil, celebrating 30 years of Rugby League in Samoa.
Always worth watching in these Pacific Nations games is the opening exchanges before kick off. The difference between the two couldn’t be more pronounced. Whilst Samoa have a pre game war cry that would make more than a few opposition players think twice about giving cheek, the Bati of Fiji has the sweet harmony or their pre game anthem. It certainly is different to the norm, and most welcome.
Onto the game and early signs were good for the home side as they took control of the first quarter of the match.
Big Bulldogs enforcer Sam Kasiano was one of the big names heading into this rare Pacific Test Match, and he didn’t disappoint early as he led the home to dominate the game.
That dominance was turned into points by Kasiano himself who showed some silky skills for a big man for Samoa’s first try just to the right of the posts.
Fiji were unable to turn back to back to back penalties close to the line into tries, and were doubly punished not long after when Samoa themselves scored back to back tries through Ken Maumalo. On both occasions the Samoans successfully tested the Fijian left side defence. At the 20 minute mark, and with all the momentum and home side in their favour, it looked as if it could be any old score against Fiji.
The game then took a drinks break, unsurprisingly given the heat. It was a real mood killer for Samoa’s, and began the comeback for Fiji. Samoa in fact had scored their last points.
The comeback started through the Bati taking full advantage of a Samoan kick out on the full on the fifth tackle. After some momentum uo the middle, a great offload from Fiji’s Kikau provided the ball movement down the left side for Montoya to score in the corner.
That try sparked up Fiji, and with the new lease of life went on the attack, and a second try was forth coming not long after as James Storer was the final recipient after two great offloads in a row kept the ball alive for the Fijians to reduce the gap to 18-10.
Fiji almost scored again not long after as Montoya was unable to hold on the ball with the line just a metre away. That was soon forgotten as Fiji crossed for their third try of the match not long after as the perfect grubber met a perfectly timed run and regather from Brayden Williame. With the half time whistle blown Fiji had turned what looked to be a one sided contest into a real battle. The score was tight at 18-16 to the home side.
Whilst the second half produced just the one try, there was no shortage of action and excitement in this Pacific Test.
Some of the football may have closer resembled Sevens rugby at times, the intensity was apparent, with both defensive lines doing an outstanding job to stop raids from either side in the second half as the nations
There were line breaks galore, unreal offloads, and some stirring goal line defence mixed with some unfortunate errors right on the line from both sides as they both looked to score with every set, and defended like hell when they weren’t.
The difference in the end came out of the blue, or out of a blue’s hands, as Fiji’s Tyrone Phillips took advantage of a juggled ball from the Samoans to run 80 metres to score despite a quality chase by Samoa. The celebrations were big as Fiji took the lead for the first time at 20-18. But with twenty minutes to go, both sides knew there were plenty of opportunities to get that next try.
Somehow, that next try never came, despite both sides’ best attacking intentions. Fiji and Samoa tried their very hardest to add to their points tally, but the final pass or plays just never quite paid off. The score remain 20-18 for Fiji.
It was another great game of Rugby Legue, and yet another fine example of how good Test Matches, and why there should be plenty more of them.
Kudos also to Fox Sports for showing the game live and on prime time replay. Although there was a significant lack of quality in coverage when it came to the visual product, it mattered little as the Rugby League on offer was good in any pixel count. One can only hope that we see more of the same, and how about televising PNG Hunters home game thorugh a similar arrangement in 2017. It’s obvious Channel 9 aren’t interested.
Fiji Bati 20 (Montoya, Storer, Wiliame, Phillips tries; Moceidreke 2 goals) defeated Toa Samoa 18 (Maumalo 2, Kasiano tries; Wright 3 goals) at Apia Stadium. Half-time: Samoa 18-16.