A second half fightback wasn’t enough for Australia A as Tonga secured a historic 27-21 win in Friday’s international fixture at Teufaiva Stadium.
The hosts took just three minutes to open the scoring through Salesi Piutau, who barged through Australia A’s defence out wide after a blistering start from the Ikale Tahi forward pack.
A Taniela Tupou scrum penalty saw the visitors briefly regain momentum before Tonga capitalized on a spilt pass, marching down field and earning back-to-back penalties in the 10th minute.
Teufaiva Stadium erupted again when Ikale Tahi skipper Sonatane Takulua sent Fine Inisi overuntouched, William Havili’s conversion putting Tonga ahead 12-0 after 10 minutes.
Handling errors continued to plague Australia A as the Ikale Tahi surged ahead, eventually crossing again in the 24th minute through Solomone Funaki after a series of scrum penalties inside their attacking 22.
With the home crowd in full voice, Piutau produced another magical moment in the 34th minute, drawing two defenders and offloading to Inisi, whose kick bounced beautiful for Takulua to score their fourth try.
Trailing 24-0 at halftime, Australia A needed an early score in the second stanza and Corey Toole delivered, finishing a lovely James O’Connor cutout in the 45th minute with Bernard Foley converting from the sideline.
The game opened up as the Ikale Tahi began to tire with half-time replacement Issak Fines-Leleiwasa a constant threat from the ruck base, eventually breaking loose in the 58th minute to set up Lachlan Anderson for Australia A’s second try.
Foley’s conversion closed the margin to 10 points and when a 70th minute counter attack saw Lukhan Salakai-Loto break free and put Josh Flook away untouched beneath the sticks, a grandstand finish beckoned with Australia A trailing 24-21.
However, the Ikale Tahi were not to be denied with a 77th minute penalty extending their advantage to six points before both sides were reduced to 14 men in the dying stages.
A late Ned Hanigan lineout steal wasn’t enough as the Tongans regathered possession and eventually found touch, emerging 27-21 victors.
Australia A skipper Bernard Foley paid tribute to the Ikale Tahi and wider Tongan community after the full-time whistle.
“It’s been great to be here, the hospitality from the Tongan people and Tongan public has been exceptional - we felt very welcomed coming here,” Foley said.
“We knew it was going to be a physical match, they really gave it to us at the start and put us under pressure.
“We came up against a really quality side in Tonga with plenty of strike weapons in their backline. We weren’t able to stop them early on and we paid for that.
“But again, it was a great opportunity for everyone to play here and we’re hungry and motivated to keep going.”