80:00
Sat 25 November 2017
Mt Smart Stadium - Crowd: 30003

England topple Tonga in dramatic thriller

England have survived a late fightback from Tonga, in which Kristian Woolf's side scored three tries in six minutes, to claim a 20-18 win in front of over 30,000 fans at Mt. Smart Stadium.

Tonga entered Saturday afternoon's clash with the belief that they could be the first second tier nation to progress through to the Grand Final in World Cup history.

In the early stages of the first half, Tonga appeared to be matching the intensity of the more heavily fancied England. However, it was Wayne Bennett's men who posted first points when a simple sweeping play saw Jermaine McGillvary stroll over untouched in the corner.

Gareth Widdop established himself as England's most dangerous threat in the first forty, and the skilful fullback confirmed that in the 15th minute when he pushed through defenders to score out wide and extend his side's lead to 12-0 - a score line which would not change by half time.

Poor execution continued to plague Tonga in the second half and their job was made even more difficult when a penalty allowed Widdop to kick his team to a 14-0 lead in the 49th minute.

Despite their best efforts, Tonga just appeared to be lacking the polish of Bennett's outfit and their dream of a Grand Final berth seemed over when John Bateman crossed over in the 67th minute for a simple try.

However, a determined run by Tevita Pangai Junior saw the bench forward crash over in the 74th minute to reduce his side's deficit to 14. Kristian Woolf's side had rediscovered their belief and only minutes later his side had their second try after Siliva Havili took on the line and dived over.

A dramatic finish ensued after Jason Taumalolo burst through the line in the 77th minute to send Tuimoala Lolohea under the posts. Tonga had one final set to steal the victory, yet a controversial ruling against Andrew Fifita denied the Tongans a miraculous win. Instead, England survived a late scare to triumph 20-18 and book a meeting with Australia next Friday night at Suncorp Stadium.

3. Gareth Widdop

A stellar performance from Widdop, with his efforts at fullback during this tournament providing a headache for Dragons coach Paul McGregor. Widdop was magnificent, finishing the game with a try, two try-assists and four goals.

2. Elliot Whitehead

Got through lots of unnoticed work, finishing the clash with 139 running metres and 32 tackles. Also came up with the try-saving strip on Andrew Fifita.

1. Jason Taumalolo

Was sensational even in a slightly quiet game with 194 running metres, a line break and try-assist in just 57 minutes of play.