Fiji hosted Tonga in Suva for the opening match of the Pacific Nations Cup on June 11. A nervous start by the hosts meant the team had to return from a distressing first-half slump to stage a magnificent comeback and overcome the visitors 23-18.
Debutant flanker Eremasi Radrodro had a night to remember after scoring a match-winning try. He started on the bench and only took to the field in the 12th minute as an injury replacement for Malakai Ravulo.
Coach John McKee, the Kiwi who has been head coach since 2014, named the strongest possible line up for Fiji ahead of the match.
However, by the 30th minute, underdogs Tonga were in a surprising healthy lead following tries by halfback Tane Takulu and winger Pila Iongi.
Tonga’s intensity gave no chance to the Flying Fijians to recover from the first try. Tonga’s two tries were within a space of seven minutes.
Fiji regrouped at halftime staring at a blank canvas for their own score and a deficit of 15 points to recover from.
As the second half progressed, the experience began to surface as Fiji fought hard to claw their way back into the contest.
Within five minutes of being back on the field Ben Volavola found the score line and veteran Seremai Bai successfully converted to bring the game back to life for the passionate home crowd at the ANZ Stadium.
Neemia Soqeta scored Fiji’s second try five minutes later to reduce the deficit further.
Tension continued to linger when another penalty went Tonga’s way, and affording them a six point with only 24 minutes of play left.
A couple of penalties from Bai brought the scores level at 18-18 with just nine minutes of play remaining.
Newbie Radrodro then produced magic at the brink of fulltime, crashing his way through the tough Tongan defence for the decisive winning try. Radrodro’s courage restored pride as he snatched the game from the hands of Ikale Tahi.
Veteran Seremai Bai’s eight points from a conversion and two penalties proved crucial.
Fiji will meet Samoa in the second match of the tournament in Suva on June 18.
Fiji 23 (Ben Volavola, Neemia Soqeta, Eremasia Radrodro tries; Seremaia Bai 1 conversion, 2 penalties).
Tonga 18 (Pila Iongi, Tane Takulua tries; Tane Takulua 1 conversion, 2 penalties), Halftime: 0-15.
Photo Caption: Ben Volavola (left) was influential for Fiji. (Photo by Getty)