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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.
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.
Tonga 18 - England 20
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium
Halftime Score: Tonga 0 England 12
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Gareth Widdop
2 points - Elliot Whitehead
1 points - Jason Taumalolo
Tries: Tevita Pangai Junior, Siliva Havili, Tuimoala Lolohea
Conversions: Sio Siua Taukeiaho (3/3)
Tries: Jermaine McGillvary, Gareth Widdop, John Bateman
Conversions: Gareth Widdop (3/3)
Penalty Goals: Gareth Widdop (1/1)