HAMILTON,13 NOVEMBER 2017 (THE GUARDIAN)–Tonga’s shock 28-22 defeat of New Zealand means the Kiwis, as the World Cup Group B runners-up, will face a quarter-final against Fiji while Tonga loom as England’s potential semi-final opponents.
It also mean the final will not be between Australia and New Zealand for the first time since 1995.
Tonga came from 16-2 down at half-time and will now play Lebanon. The winger David Fusitu’a scored a hat-trick before a capacity crowd of 25,000 at Waikato Stadium.
The grudge match lived up to all expectations, the tone for which was set in the pre-match haka when the New Zealand forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona touched heads with Tonga’s Andrew Fifita.
Tonga enjoyed most of the early pressure but only had a penalty from Sio Siua Taukeiaho to show for their efforts and the Kiwis soon began to demonstrate their superior creativity. The left-winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak produced a clinical finish midway through the first half to nudge New Zealand ahead and their other winger, Jordan Rapana, went over in his corner eight minutes later.
Danny Levi also went close for the Kiwis before the Tonga winger Daniel Tupou had a try disallowed for a forward pass. Four minutes later, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck accepted an offload from Brad Takairangi to grab a try that, with Shaun Johnson’s goal, opened up a 14-point lead.
Undeterred, Tonga dominated the third quarter and after Konrad Hurrell went close Fusitu’a leapt to touch down Toa Lolohea’s high kick for his first try.
Lolohea hit the woodwork with the conversion but he was on target to convert Fusitu’a’s second after 58 minutes bringing his side within four points.
The pivotal moment came on the hour when Lolohea went over for an interception try and three minutes later the Warrington-bound Ben Murdoch-Masila broke to put Will Hopoate over.
When Tuivasa-Sheck touched down for his second try after 71 minutes it set up a nervous finish but Fusitu’a settled the game by completing his hat-trick three minutes from the end.
Australia thrashed Lebanon 34-0 maintaining their 100% record in Group A and they now face Samoa on Friday in the first quarter-final.
Stefan Ratchford says England will have no excuses for not completing the job when they meet France in their last World Cup group game on Sunday. England, who still technically need a point to secure a quarter-final place, stepped into the unknown a week ago when they played a first international against Lebanon but Ratchford says they will know exactly what to expect from Aurélien Cologini’s side at Perth’s Rectangular Stadium.
The French team will bear little resemblance to the one that lost 40-6 in their last meeting with England in Avignon just over a year ago but it contains nine players from Catalans Dragons as well Ratchford’s Warrington team-mate Benjamin Jullien and the St Helens half-back Théo Fages.
“France are a lot more well known to us than Lebanon were,” Ratchford said at the England captain’s run at Fremantle Oval. “There are a lot of familiar faces, the majority of the team are Catalans boys and we know them. We’ve done our homework on them as we do every team. They showed last week against Australia they’re no rollovers and when we played them before the Four Nations last year, it was really tight early on. We know it will be tough but we’re confident that if we do the right things we will get the right result.”
Ratchford will win his fourth cap in the unusual position of wing after deputising for an injured Jonny Lomax at full-back in the 29-10 win over Lebanon.
Gareth Widdop will be at full-back against France as the coach, Wayne Bennett, gives all members of his 24-man squad a game before the knockout stages.
Ryan Hall, Elliott Whitehead, Josh Hodgson, Chris Heighington and Kallum Watkins are being rested but Ratchford is confident the reserves will ensure there is continuity throughout the team. “We are all used to a programme that we’ve been running,” he said. “We’ve come really close together, we’re almost like a regular team rather than your national team.
“We’re a really tight group and whatever 17 goes out there, they are fully backed by the lads that aren’t out there.”
Assistant coach Denis Betts does not anticipate any late changes and says Lomax, who was a withdrawal from last week’s game after damaging a calf in training, is on course to return for the quarter-final, along with Sam Burgess.
“We are giving everyone a chance in the group stages to impress,” Betts said. “The lads before them have already put a game down but it does not mean the lads who have come in cannot play better.
“We’re looking forward to doing a good job against France. They have not got the biggest of sides so they will be looking to play a bit. We will just do what we have practised. It sounds boring but we are here to try and be in a position to win the competition.”
Scotland restored lost pride but their dreadful World Cup campaign is over after Samoa secured the draw they needed to take the final quarter-final place in Group B.
Scotland defied the odds to push a strong Samoa side all the way in a 14-14 stalemate in Cairns, only to miss out on a last-eight spot by virtue of their vastly inferior points difference.
Steve McCormack got the response he demanded after crushing defeats by Tonga and New Zealand. But without captain Danny Brough – one of three players sent home after being too drunk to board a flight – his team were unable to build on a promising first half as Samoa improved enough to book a quarter-final date with Australia.
Lewis Tierney and Frankie Mariano went over either side of Junior Paulo’s effort to give a Danny Addy-inspired Scotland a deserved eight-point half-time lead. Matthew Wright got Samoa back in it in the driving rain and Young Tonumaipea earned the below-par Samoans a draw….PACNEWS
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