Kiwis survive Fiji scare to book Kangaroo clash

Embed from Getty Images
New Zealand Men v Fiji Men

New Zealand have won their quarterfinal match against Fiji 24-18 this morning in Hull. 

Despite trailing at half-time and looking way off their game, the Kiwis found a way to win against a valiant Fiji team. Sunia Turuva was the standout player for Fiji, but in the end his team just couldn't hold on. 

It was an intriguing start to the game, with some early penalties to Fiji assisting them out of their own end, and giving New Zealand plenty to worry about in defence. When the Kiwis were in possession however, they made plenty of metres and almost always got into a good position for an attacking kick. But their ill-discipline didn't go unpunished.

Off the back of a set restart, Maika Sivo opened the scoring on his left wing for Fiji in the 12th minute. It was all their NRL stars linking up to get him the try, with Koroisau playing in the halves linking up with his former Penrith teammate Viliame Kikau on the left edge. The kick was struck perfectly from the sideline by Brandon Wakeham to extend the lead to six points.

While the forwards continued to size each other up, the outside backs from both sides were making an impact for their respective nations early in the count. Just as New Zealand were granted some attacking ball, an obstruction penalty released all pressure that they'd been building. 

It was the Fijian captain Kevin Naiqama who was next to cross the stripe in the 20th minute. The 33 year old steamed onto a lovely short ball from his fullback Turuva to dive over behind the posts. Wakeham knocked over the conversion kick, and suddenly Fiji had control of the match, leading 12-0. 

A Semi Valemei error allowed the Kiwis a midfield scrum which they happily converted into a four pointer in the 27th minute. It was Ronaldo Mulitalo who opened the New Zealand scorecard on the left edge, and despite some recent kicking woes, Jordan Rapana nailed the conversion from the touchline to bring the margin down to six points.

With neither team able to convert field position into points during the latter stages of the half, the half-time score saw Fiji lead the world number one's New Zealand 12-6. Despite the Kiwis winning the set for set forward-running battle, their ill-discipline had allowed Fiji too many opportunities. Fiji's goalline defence had held firm despite plenty of testing by the likes of Joey Manu and Dylan Brown.

A clunky start to the second half from New Zealand allowed Fiji an early chance, which Kevin Naiqama took without hesitation. Scooting down the short side, he sold the dummy to his winger and crashed over to extend his team's lead. Wakeham never looked like missing, this time from the right touchline, and the scoreline was 18-6 just five minutes into the second half.

Only five minutes later the Kiwis crossed for their first points of the half thanks to some poor defensive decisions by Fiji. Attempting to strip the ball, Semi Valemei and Api Koroisau dropped off the tackle of Nikora, only for him to dive over the tryline. The successful conversion brought the gap back down to six points in the 50th minute.

Fiji tried valiantly to hang on, with Brandon Wakeham making a notably good try-saving tackle on Ronaldo Mulitalo to prevent the gap closing even further. Some magic from their star players was needed for New Zealand to cross the line again, with a cut-out ball from Dylan Brown hitting his winger, and with Joey Manu backing up on the inside, suddenly the game was level at 18 with 15 minutes to play. 

A successful challenge from Fiji got them off the hook just a few minutes later, but then New Zealand utilised their challenge to overturn the on-field decision of a Manu knock-on and turn it into a strip penalty for the Kiwis. Rapana slotted the penalty goal, and New Zealand took the lead for the first time, 20-18.

Fiji were gifted a number of opportunities in the dying stages, but ultimately couldn't convert. New Zealand crossed the line through Rapana in the final minute to seal the game, and the 24-18 scoreline.

So, what can New Zealand learn from that game? They certainly can't dish-up that performance against the Aussies next weekend. As for Fiji, they gave it everything, and hopefully they will keep on building for world cups to come.

New Zealand Men 24 - Fiji Men 18

Venue: MKM Stadium, Hull
Crowd: 7080
Halftime Score: New Zealand Men 6 Fiji Men 12 Players of the Match:
3 points - Sunia Turuva
2 points - Joseph Manu
1 points - Jordan Rapana

Tries: Ronaldo Mulitalo, Jordan Rapana, Briton Nikora, Joseph Manu
Conversions: Jordan Rapana (3/4)
Penalty Goals: Jordan Rapana (1/1)

Tries: Maika Sivo, Kevin Naiqama (2)
Conversions: Brandon Wakeham (3/3)

See how it happened in our Match Centre