Rugby union: Sparkling Fiji claim Pacific crown after downing Samoa

Fijian teammates rejoice after scoring against Samoa during the 2015 World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup (PNC) on Aug 3, 2015.
Fijian teammates rejoice after scoring against Samoa during the 2015 World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup (PNC) on Aug 3, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

VANCOUVER (AFP) - Fiji fired a warning shot to Rugby World Cup hosts England on Monday, with a sparkling attacking performance to down tough-tackling Samoa 39-29 and win the Pacific Nations Cup.

Just under seven weeks from their opening World Cup fixture against England at Twickenham on Sept 18, the Fijians served a timely reminder of their potency to outscore Samoa by five tries to three.

A see-saw battle at the Swangard Stadium saw Fiji race away to an early 17-3 lead before the physical Samoans looked to have reeled them early in the second half with two quick tries to take a 21-17 lead.

But just as Samoa appeared to have taken control of the contest, Fiji came roaring back with three quick tries that saw them pull clear and hang on for a deserved win.

Fiji had gotten off to a dream start with early tries from athletic lock Leone Nakarawa and scrum-half Niko Matawalu.

Nakarawa opened the scoring for the Fijians after just 90 seconds, bursting clear to score under the posts for a try converted by Joshua Matavesi.

Matavesi slotted a penalty to put Fiji 10-0 up before Samoa got on the scoresheet through Michael Stanley's first three-pointer of the contest, a towering long-range effort from wide on the left.

But Fiji had Samoa scrambling again when they snaffled a line-out and captain Akapusi Qera peeled off before feeding Matawalu, who sprinted over close to the posts, Matavesi adding a simple conversion to make it 17-3.

Samoa fought back with two more Stanley penalties to make it 17-9 at half-time. Soon after the restart they looked to have taken a grip, when flanker Jack Lam crashed over from close range before a wonderful individual run from right wing Fa'atoina Autagavaia made it 21-17.

Yet Fiji's response was immediate, Nakarawa grabbing his second of the match to put his team 22-21 ahead after a clever cross-field kick by Ben Volavola caused havoc in the Samoan defence.

Samoa, though, remained calm and Stanley kicked them back in front with another cool penalty to make it 24-22.

But just as Fiji looked to be struggling against the power of the Samoan set piece, the game turned on its head around the one-hour mark as the flamboyant islanders turned on the style to score two tries out of nothing.

The first came through full-back Kini Murimurivalu, going over in the corner for a try converted by Volavola to put Fiji 29-24 ahead.

The Fijians saved their best for last, however, and opened up a 12-point lead with a magnificent try from distance.

Replacement Peceli Yato conjured a scintillating break in midfield before feeding the omnipresent Matavalu who went racing in under the posts.

The scrum-half then unselfishly popped a pass to skipper Qera following up, and with Volavola adding the conversion Fiji were suddenly 36-24 ahead.

Samoa ensured a nervous finish with Autagavaia scoring his second try of the match to reduce Fiji's lead to 36-29, but with the conversion missed, the Samoans were always struggling to complete another comeback.

Four minutes from time, Samoa were penalised at a ruck and Volavola stepped up to kick the three points and Fiji were home.

In other games Monday, Tonga took the bronze medal with a 31-20 win over Japan.

The United States, meanwhile, ensured a winless tournament for hosts Canada, winning a ferocious duel with their fierce regional rivals 15-13 after a last-minute drop goal from A.J. MacGinty.