Tonga erased a 12-point deficit during extra time and rallied to stun Georgia 31-29 in the third/fourth-place play-off at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2012 on Saturday.
With the win, the Ikale Tahi denied the Lelos a third consecutive JWRT bronze position.
Physical play from both teams set the tone during the first half. Tonga and Georgia took turns delivering hard hits and solid tackles. It kept each team’s offence in check and made chances for points materialise at an infrequent clip.
Tonga put the first points on the board when Amanaki Leaatoa converted a penalty kick to make it 3-0 in the sixth minute. Georgia finally tied it 3-3 on a successful penalty kick from Saba Nikolava in the 22nd minute. The Lelos had a chance to tie the game on a penalty kick attempt from Nikolava in the 13th minute, but this attempt sailed wide.
Georgia finally claimed a lead in the 32nd minute. The Lelos fought inch by inch through Tonga’s defense near the try line before Giorgi Tetrashvili finished off a try to put Georgia ahead 10-3. Good defence from the Ikale Tahi prevented the Lelos from punching in another try in the waning seconds before half-time. Georgia knocked it on about two metres from the try line.
Tonga broke through with its first try early in the second half. Michael Faleafa took a pitch and barrelled through the middle of the line to make it 10-10 in the 44th minute.
Georgia wasted no time taking back the lead. The Lelos marched down the pitch and Merab Sharikadze capped off a successful drive with a try that gave Georgia a 17-10 advantage in the 46th minute.
The Lelos overpowered Tonga to add to that score. With help from his line, Davit Khidesheli pushed forward out of the scrum. The Ikale Tahi line back pedalled and Khidesheli came away with the try. A missed conversion kick left it 22-10 in the 54th minute.
Tonga answered in rapid fashion. The Ikale Tahi intercepted the ball following the kick-off and Leaatoa punched in a quick try to trim the lead to 22-17 in the 57th minute.
Georgia kept the second half offensive fireworks going with another try in the 65th minute. Tamaz Mchedlidze had one man to beat and bowled over his opponent to punch it in on the right side. It gave the Lelos a commanding 29-17 lead.
The Ikale Tahi saved the best for last. Taniela Vakuta came up with a try to close the score to 29-24 as the match entered extra time. Tonga showed its determination by pushing down the pitch again and getting near the try line.
The comeback became complete when Manase Folau used his big backs to clear a path for him to punch it in. The conversion kick from Leaatoa made it 31-29 in the final minute of extra time.
Tonga perform the Sipi Tau before their thrilling third/fourth-place play-off match with Georgia, which they won with a last-minute try and conversion. Photo: David Brinton