Tonga Schools: 26 (Heimuli Taufa,Sione Etoni, Hiliau Latu, Nawruz Kanongata’a tries; Etoni 3 con) Wellington Under-18: 24 (Tai Neli 2, Malo Manuao, Kyle Preston tries: Tom Maiava con, Manuao con)
The Tonga Schools impressive form in New Zealand continued at Jerry Collins Stadium this afternoon, pipping the Wellington Under-18’s 26-24 in an entertaining and physical spectacle.
Tonga leapt out to a 26-12 lead early in the second-half, but were forced to defend stoutly in the last quarter to earn their victory.
Initially, Wellington struggled to match the visitors' abrasive approach and were down 19-5 after half an hour.
Tongan tighthead prop Heimuli Taufa powered over for the first try after a combative series of ‘pick and goes.’
Wellington responded when wing Tai Neli (Scots College) stepped off the left foot twice and left the visitors defence in his wake from halfway, but a charge down try to first-five Sione Etoni and a barge over by openside Hiliau Latu had Tonga well in command.
Wellington looked dangerous when they stretched the Tongan defence to the flanks and that strategy yielded profit before the break when Misi Faimalo (St Pat's Town) kicked ahead for Malo Manuao (Scots College) to gather and score close to the posts. Manuao converted his own try and it was 19-12 at halftime.
Breaks by Tongan No.8 Apitoni To’ia and second-five Vaea Tutu’ila Vaea went unrewarded, but blindside Nawruz Kanongata’a was unstoppable close to the line as Tonga roared ahead 26-12 after five minutes of the second-half.
Wellington’s bench changed the course of proceedings with halfback Kyle Preston (Tawa College), first-five Matiu Samuel (Rongotai College) and huge flanker Junior Uluese (Scots College) in particular making a big impact.
Neil wriggled through traffic to close the gap to 26-17 and then Samuel chipped delightfully for Preston to set up an exciting finish.
Regrettably, Jason Tuitama (Rongotai College) and Preston both dropped the ball over the line as Wellington created the chances to win, but weren’t good enough to take them.
In addition to Neil and the aforementioned reserves fullback Jack Gray (Scots College), openside Alex Faifailoa (Wainuiomata High School) and second-five Connor Fitzsimmons (Wellington College) performed strongly for the hosts.
To’ia is an inspiring skipper for Tonga and is well supported in the loose by Nawruz and Kanongata’a. Both props Taufa and Tevita Sole are busy and bruising too.
Tonga concludes their tour on Friday with a match against the New Zealand Maori Schools at Jerry Collins Stadium on Friday. Today the New Zealand Barbarians beat the New Zealand Maori U18s 28-24 in Palmerston North. The Barbarians beat Tonga 33-19 on Thursday.