New Zealand 25 Tonga 24
New Zealand escaped humiliation and almost certain elimination from the Halifax Centenary World Cup last night in the last two minutes of one of the most thrilling international matches ever played.
Two kicks from their captain, Matthew Ridge, salvaged the Kiwis' pride. In the last minute of normal time his conversion of Richie Blackmore's try brought New Zealand level. With almost two minutes of injury time gone his drop goal robbed Tonga of a draw that was the very least they deserved for a magnificent display.
Duane Mann, dumped by both Warrington and New Zealand two years ago, returned to haunt them. The Tongan captain led a magnificent pack and also tormented the Kiwis with an unsuspected range of kicking skills.
Tonga started both halves with a spine-tingling intensity, going ahead in the ninth minute with Willie Wolfgramm's try. The disarray to which they reduced New Zealand was even reflected in the try the Kiwis scored in reply, Sean Hoppe appeared to knock on before touching down.
For the rest of the half, New Zealand, despite the fire and passion of the Tongans, seemed to be taking control, With two tries in two minutes from Tony Kemp and Blackmore putting them 12-6 up at the break.
The third quarter of a fierce match was all Tonga with Una Taufa seizing on an error behind his own line by Syd Eru and Jimmy Veikoso going over from Duane Mann's excellent kick.
Three more goals from Asa Amone and a try when Salesi Finau picked up Tony Iro's fumble gave Tonga a 12-point lead with seven minutes left.
The introduction of the Kiwi substitutes had a reviving effect, Hitro Okesene scoring from a move begun by Henry Paul and Ridge kicking from the touchline.
A great match ended with a great finish, even if it was a heartbreaking one for Tonga.
NEW ZEALAND: Ridge (Manly-Warringah, capt); Hoppe, Blackmore (both Auckland), Wiki (Canberra), Barnett (Cronulla); Ngamu, Jones (both Auckland); Pongia (Canberra), Eru (Auckland), Lowrie, T Iro (both Sydney City Roosters), Kearney (Auckland), Kemp (Leeds). Substitutes: Okesene (Auckland) for Pongia (51), K Iro (Leeds) for Wiki (63), Paul (Wigan) for Kemp (63), Horo (Western Suburbs) for Lowrie (63).
TONGA: Amone (Halifax); Taufa (Canberra Raiders), Vaikona (Hull), Howlett (Parramatta), Veikoso (Westbelconen); Dymock (Moorepark), Wolfgramm (Narrandera); Masella (Illawara), D Mann (Auckland), Hansen (Widnes), G Mann (Leeds, capt), Haumono, Guttenbeil (both Manly-Warringah). Substitutes: Finau (Canberra) for Howlett (57), Liava'a (Otahuhu) for Masella (62), Leilua (Otahuhu), Masella for Hansen (72).
Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).
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