Sun, Jun 08, 2008 - Page 19 News List

New Zealand Maori defeat brave Tonga in Cup debut


New Zealand Maori celebrated their debut in the Pacific Nations Cup with a scratchy 20-9 first-round victory over a brave Tonga yesterday.

The match could have gone either way until the 72nd minute, when the Maoris scored the second of their two tries to give themselves a comfortable buffer.

The Maori were making their first appearance in the Pacific competition, replacing the Junior All Blacks who romped to victory in the Cup’s first two years.

Tonga continued their good form from the World Cup, holding their own in the forwards and keeping the more favored opposition to 3-3 at halftime.

Both teams took a long time to settle into their first appearances of the season, and a heavy penalty count stopped the game from flowing through long stretches.

Maori No. 8 Thomas Waldrom stood out, with strong running and offloading, while Tongan flankers Nili Latu and Hale T-Pole helped ensure their side held their own up front despite a big territorial disadvantage.

Flyhalf Fangatapu Apikotoa played a major part in preventing the Maori making more of their territorial advantage, repeatedly getting his team out of trouble with long clearing kicks and scoring all Tonga’s points from penalties.

The Tongans never threw in the towel, but their generally disciplined display was spoiled by yellow cards in the second spell to fullback Sione Tu’ipulotu and inside center Epeli Taione for illegal tackles.

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