Flying Fijians clinch World Cup berth

Fiji have qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup after beating Tonga 14-10 in Nuku'alofa at the weekend, with one direct passage to Japan still up for grabs.

The visitors trailed 10-3 with 27 minutes remaining at a sold-out Teufaiva Stadium but cut the deficit to two points with a try from Leone Nakarawa before Ben Volavola slotted two penalty goals in the final quarter of an hour to secure a hard fought win.

Flying Fijians coach John McKee said securing the top qualifying berth was their key focus this year.

"It's been quite clearly our goal for this whole campaign is to secure that Oceania Number 1 spot and we've managed to do that with our win on the weekend. We always knew we were going to be in for a tough battle here - I don't think there will ever be an easy win in Tonga, especially when the 'Ikale Tahi haven't played at home for a number of years," he said.

"They are highly motivated and had a big support behind them but credit to our players, we withstood the physical onslaught and at times played quite well in the game, scored a nice try.

"The disappointing thing is we probably left a couple of other opportunities on the field with turnovers at the wrong time but it was a very competitive game and there was a lot of ball movement - suprisingly enough for the scoreline there was quite a lot of attacking play from both teams."


One more chance

Tonga earned a losing bonus point at Teufaiva Stadium to move above Samoa in the race for the other World Cup qualifying spot.

The second direct qualifier from Oceania will be confirmed after Saturday's final round clash between Samoa and Fiji.

The Manu have a far superior points difference to the 'Ikale Tahi and will regain second spot if they win, or lose by seven points or less, at Apia Park.

A four-try bonus point would also be enough for the Manu to book their ticket to Japan, provided they don't also lose by more than 31 points.

However, the team that does miss out will get another chance to reach the World Cup, via a home and away playoff against a European qualifier.

Fiji switch focus to Pacific Nations Cup title defence

Also up for grabs this weekend is the 2017 Pacific Nations Cup title, with all three teams still in with a chance of lifting the silverware.

Tonga lead the PNC standings with five points from two matches, after earning a bonus point at the weekend for losing by seven points or less.

The Flying Fijians are in second place on four points, three clear of Samoa, and the defending champions and will retain the title with a win or draw at Apia Park, while a loss by seven points or less could also see the Cup remain in Suva.

John McKee said they will have to be wary of a fired-up Manu Samoa side that will be fighting on two fronts.

"Samoa - a bit of pressure there around the Rugby World Cup qualification so we know we're going to be in for another very tough battle there and it's going to be difficult to overcome the Samoan team," he said.

"But I'm confident with the group of players we've got and the confidence that we bring from our success throughout the campaign thus far will put us in a good place to be prepared for a top performance (this) weekend."


Photo: Oceania Rugby Tonga and Fiji square off in Nuku'alofa