x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Tonga avoid Ireland upset

Tonga win their opening pool match against the spirited Irish in the Rugby League World Cup.

Tony Williams of Tonga is tackled during the 2008 Rugby League World Cup Pool 3 match between Tonga and Ireland at Parramatta Stadium.
Tony Williams of Tonga is tackled during the 2008 Rugby League World Cup Pool 3 match between Tonga and Ireland at Parramatta Stadium.

SYDNEY // Winger Esi Tonga scored a 73rd-minute try to give Tonga a 22-20 win over Ireland in their Rugby League World Cup opener. Winger Damien Blanch scored three tries for Ireland, all when then Tongan team had a player in the sin bin, but the Pacific Islanders held strong and prevented an upset. In the 49th minute, Tonga five-eighth Feleti Mateo was sin-binned for arguing with the referee. Blanch scored his second try in the subsequent ten minutes to put Ireland back in front but the Tongans rallied again to regain the lead with their third try.

The lead changed twice more with Blanch scoring his third try to give Ireland a 20-18 advantage before Tonga's late four-pointer gave the Tongans the victory. Tonga started strongly and led 6-0 after an early converted try to Penrith National Rugby League centre Michael Jennings, but fell behind while winger Tonga was sent to the sin bin by British referee Steve Ganson for repeated infringements.

Ireland capitalised, running in ten unanswered points before Tonga returned to the field. Blanch, the Australian-born winger who was marking Tonga, scored the equalising try. Ireland went ahead again when fullback Michael Platt was awarded a try by the video referee Paul Simpkins despite what appeared to be a forward pass from halfback Karl Fitzpatrick. With its full complement restored, Tonga regained the lead four minutes from half-time when Newcastle Knights winger Cooper Vuna touched down after regathering a kick from halfback Joel Taufa'ao.

Taufa'ao missed the conversion but kicked a final-minute penalty to give Tonga a 12-10 halftime advantage. Scores: Tonga 22 (Michael Jennings, Esi Tonga, Etuate Uaisele, Cooper Vuna tries; Joel Taufa'ao 2, Tony Williams goals), Ireland 20 (Damien Blanch 3, Michael Platt tries; Pat Richards 2 goals). HT: 12-10. *AP