Tonga scrape past Ireland

Tonga have held out a very brave Irish effort to record a 22-20 victory in the opening Pool C match of the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.

It may not have been the most skilful match, but both sides turned on a great spectacle for the small crowd in attendance with more twists and turns than seen in any other match of the tournament so far. It began with a try to centre Michael Jennings after a very strong Tongan start began to expose some holes in the Irish defence, but Ireland were gradually able to work their way back into the match assisted by some terrible Tongan discipline.

The sin-binning of Tongan winger Esikeli Tonga in the 24th minute proved crucial for Ireland who were able to score two tries while their opposition was a man short. It could well have been three tries after a strong kick-return gave them a great opportunity but a loose pass spoiled the chance. Tonga hit back just before the break with a try to Cooper Vuna after Irish fullback Michael Platt made a meal of a deep kick, and a penalty goal right before the siren gave the Tongans a 12-10 halftime lead.

The second half started badly for Tonga - Pat Richards very nearly scored for Ireland after only a couple of minutes, then they lost both their halves in quick succession as Joel Taufa'ao was forced off with a leg injury and Feleti Mateo was sin-binned after a running battle with referee Steve Ganson. Once again Ireland were able to take advantage of a 12-man Tongan side with Damien Blanch scoring his second try of the night to put the Wolfhounds into the lead.

The lead changed again when Etuate Uasisele finished off a break started by Tevita Leo-Latu in the 59th minute, but Ireland hit back themselves with a perfect chip-kick from replacement Liam Finn setting up Blanch for the first-ever hat trick by an Irish player in a World Cup.

A crucial mistake came in the 73rd minute when Irish fullback Michael Platt ambled over to a deep Feleti Mateo kick and watched it bounce into touch, apparently unaware that he