WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Fiji claimed a place at the 2019 Rugby World Cup Saturday when it rallied to beat Tonga 14-10, securing the Pacific Nations Cup title for the second straight year.
Tonga led 10-3 early in the second half but Fiji hit back with a try to lock Leone Nakarawa and two late penalties to flyhalf Ben Volavola to seal its win in a tight match at the Teufaiva Stadium in the Tongan capital Apia.
Fiji now joins Australia, Wales, Georgia and a qualifier from the Americas — either Canada or Uruguay — in Pool D at the World Cup as the Oceania No. 1 qualifier and the second team after the United States to emerge from the qualifying process.
Samoa will host Fiji next weekend and remains in competition with Tonga for the Oceania No. 2 qualifying position which would send it to the World Cup in a pool currently comprising England, Argentina and France. The third team from Oceania will compete in a repecharge against a European team for a place in Japan.
The Oceania qualifying process is based on combined results of Pacific Nations Cup tournaments in 2016 and 2017.
Tonga, coming off last weekend's upset win over Samoa, started strongly Saturday and rocked Fiji when it seized the lead with an early second half try to prop Siegfried Fisi'ihoi.
The teams had been locked at 3-3 after a first half in which Fiji scored first with a penalty to Volavola and Tonga replied with a penalty to scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua.
Fisi'ihoi's try was converted by Takulua and gave Tonga a 10-3 lead but Fiji replied swiftly with an unconverted try to Nakarawa, reducing the lead to two points.
Volavola then kicked a penalty to put Fiji ahead 11-10, and another in the 74th minute to seal the win.
Fiji is enjoying an outstanding season in which it has beaten Italy and Scotland before retaining the Pacific Nations Cup title.