United States 15 Tonga 25: Vaki lands decisive blow to clip weary Eagles' wings

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The Independent Online

The United States refused to use their heroics against England as an excuse for their failure to beat Tonga in their World Cup Pool A game in Montpellier yesterday. The Americans were seen as favourites following their brave performance against the world champions four days earlier, but they looked to be suffering from the after-effects of that match as they got off to the worst possible start.

They conceded a try after 72 seconds and were trailing 13-0 after 26 minutes before going on to enjoy long periods of domination with little reward in a 25-15 defeat. "People might think our performance against England had an effect, but we won't be using that excuse," insisted the flanker Louis Stanfill, one of their two try-scorers. "That's an easy excuse to use."

The former Tonga captain Viliami Vaki came off the bench to seal victory with a late try and get his side's campaign off to a dream start. The veteran forward pounced 11 minutes from the end to kill off the brave efforts of the Eagles and claim Tonga's third victory in the World Cup, their first for eight years.

The Tonga fly-half Pierre Hola, who kicked four goals from five attempts, admitted his side had been helped in their preparations by studying their opponents in their 28-10 defeat by England. "We prepared well," he said. "We watched USA play England and that helped us to plan our strategy and we got a good start at the beginning. We were on a roll."

The flanker Finau Maka was driven over for the game's first try and Hola added the conversion before punishing American indiscipline with a couple of penalty goals. The United States struggled for ball in the set-pieces and found themselves with their hands full against the Pacific Islanders' forwards.

"I told the boys to be patient," revealed Tonga's inspirational captain Nili Latu, who was passed fit before kick-off after missing training this week with a hamstring injury.

"I also told them again what our game plan was because we weren't sticking to it at that point.

"I'm very pleased. It's not often you get the chance to play in a World Cup and it's a good feeling to get a victory. Winning today is a confident step up for us."

United States: Tries MacDonald, Stanfill; Conversion Hercus; Penalty Hercus.

Tonga: Tries Maka, Vaka, Vaki; Conversions Hola 2; Penalties Hola 2.

United States: C Wyles; S Sika, P Emerick, V Esikia, T Ngwenya; M Hercus (capt), C Erskine; M MacDonald, O Lentz, C Osentowski, A Parker, M Mangan, L Stanfill, T Clever, H Bloomfield. Replacements: B Burdett for Lentz (49), M Moeakiola for MacDonald (54), I Basauri for Bloomfield (55),P Eloff for Esikia (60)

Tonga: V Lilio; T Tu'ifua, S Hufanga, E Taione, J Vaka; P Hola, S Havea; S Tonga'uika, A Lutui, K Pulu, L Fa'aoso, K Hehea, H T-Pole, N Latu, F Maka. Replacements: S Tuipulotu for Havea (40), A Havili for Vaka (60), V Vaki for Latu (65), L Filipine for Maka (65), T Toke for S Tonga'uika (66), I Tupou for Taione (72), E Taukafa for Lutui (76).

Referee: S Dickinson (Australia).