Lille: Solomone Kata scored two tries as Tonga gave coach Toutai Kefu a winning send-off with a seven-try 45-24 victory over Romania as the two canon-fodder teams of the World Cup Group of Death served up a cracker after suffering a month of beatings.
Afusipa Taumoepeau, George Moala, Sione Vailanu, Pita Ahki and Kyren Taumoefolau also crossed for tries while William Havili’s sweet left foot slotted five of his seven conversion attempts It was the best performance of the tournament by both teams unsurprisingly given that the other three in the pool were ranked in the world’s top five.
Tonga, particularly, showed fabulous attacking intent and invention, combining direct running, crisp passing and a seemingly bottomless supply of offloads.
Both teams will have to qualify for the 2027 World Cup in Australia as Tonga finished fourth with five points, while Romania end on zero having also registered an unwanted team record with 43 tries conceded, the most they have shipped at a single tournament. Ireland and South Africa advanced to the quarter-finals, with Scotland finishing third.
“It was good to get the win but the campaign has been disappointing,” said Kefu. “We expected more. We competed in those other games but we continued to make those Tier Two errors simple mistakes — those teams have time to iron out those mistakes, we don’t.” There was a fabulous atmosphere as the locals turned out in force to fill the 50,000-capacity stadium and they were rewarded with a fluctuating match of intense physicality.
Tonga dominated initially and Kata got the first try after 11 minutes after the exceptional Charles Piutau brilliantly offloaded while flat on the turf.
Former All Blacks centre Moala, making his first tournament appearance after a five-game ban for a tip tackle, got the second after more slick handling, and Taumoepeau jogged in the third to make it 21-3.
Alin Conache scored Romania’s first points since the 21st minute of their opening game with a penalty and they added a try through Cristi Boboc.
Tonga had lock Leva Fifita sinbinned for smashing his shoulder into the head of flanker Florian Rosu, but he escaped a red after a TMO review.
Newly-energised and with their scrum surprisingly dominant, Romania put together a terrific maul to enable 38-year-old scrumhalf Florin Surugiu, in his 104th and final international, to claim second try.
Conache converted both and suddenly, only 21-17 down at the break, Romania were dreaming of beating the all-time record World Cup comeback, which they themselves own after beating Canada 17-15 having trailed 15-0 in the 2015 tournament.
It wasn’t to be, though, as Tonga struck first after the break, turning to their forwards to bundle Vailanu over.
Romania, however, hit back as impressive fullback Marius Simionescu sprinted through to touch down Nicholas Onutu’s chip.
More great passing and direct running gave Pita Ahki a fifth Tonga try, and, after a superb 50-22 by Havili, Kata got the sixth.
Tournament high points
A 70th-minute yellow card for Conache and a tiring defence started presenting Tonga with acres of space and replacement Taumoefolau showed great pace to squeeze in for the seventh try.
It was the third time in nine World Cups that Romania have failed to win a match but they will walk away with their heads held high despite conceding a tournament high 287 points.
“We stayed in the game but we made too many mistakes, especially in the second half,” said coach Eugen Apjok “We’re disappointed as this was the game we targeted but fitness showed, it has a huge impact and it just makes defence so hard. We’re just not used to playing such intense games as frequently as this.”