Tonga rugby players must be ardently hoping that they never again encounter the conditions prevailing at Thomond Park last night.
Not alone did the rain pour down and the wind swirl viciously for the entire 80 minutes of their first ever game against the Barbarians but the South Sea islanders also went down a little unluckily by 27-24.
While there were many outstanding individual contributions to the evening’s entertainment, the gold medal for courage and staying power had to go to Frank Murphy who, believe it or not, made light of the dreadful conditions to referee both the women’s and men’s matches with his customary efficiency and without any visible sign of discomfort!
The first half provided some tremendous rugby with the Tongans jumping into a clear early lead with tries by Atele Pakalane and Foto Lokotui, both converted by Sonatane Takalua.
Understandably, it took some time for the Barbarians to gel as a team but on eighteen minutes they opened the way for the 6 ft 5 inch, 19 stone Australian wing Taqele Naiyaravoro to score in the corner. Less than two minuteslater , George Bridge of the Canterbury Crusaders, who crossed twice against the All Blacks at Twickenham last Saturday, struck once again. Robert du Preez converted the second try and then kicked a penalty to put the Barbarians 15-14 ahead at the interval.
There was little or nothing between the sides for the first twenty minutes of the second half before Tonga went back in front with a try by substitute Sione Vailanu to lead 19-15. That led to a flurry of late tries with Jordi Murphy and Andy Ellis crossing for the Ba-bas, one converted by du Preez, to lead 27-19 before Tonga had the last say, a second try for Vailanu, but it wasn’t enough to save them from a 27-24 defeat.
Munster prop James Cronin, who has been battling injury for much of the season, went off after only nine minutes and went for medical assessment with the expectation that the damage was not serious.
G Bridge (Crusaders); T Naiyaravoro (Australia), R Buckman (Highlanders), H Vorster (Lions), V Aso (Hurricanes); R du Preez (Stormers), N Stirzaker (Rebels); J Cronin (Ireland), A van der Merwe (Sharks), B Scott (Munster), G Parling (England) capt, Q Roux (Ireland), J Murphy (Ireland), S Favaro (Italy), W Britz (Sunwolves). Replacements – A Strauss (South Africa), J van Rooyen (Lions), R Smith (Toyota Verblitz), D O’Callaghan (Ireland), J Muldoon (Ireland), A Ellis (New Zealand), D Smith (New Zealand), S Carter (Australia).
K Pakalani; D Halaifonua, N Tuitavake, T Taufui, V Cooper; K Hala, S Takalua; P Faanunu, S Lea, B Tameifuna, L Fifita, S Mafi, D Faleafa, F Lokotui, M Vaipula. Replacements – M Nguamao, L Talabai, H Aulika, O Kaufisin, S Vailanu, S Tuumotooa , F Paea, P Latu.
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