Tonga keep RWC 2021 dream alive

Tonga battled past Papua New Guinea to set up a play-off with Samoa for a place in the Rugby World Cup 2021 repechage.

Tonga's dream of a first appearance in a Rugby World Cup remains alive after they overcame a Papua New Guinea side playing in their first women's international test match on home soil.

Tonga's 36-24 victory at Bava Park in Port Moresby means they progress to the final stage of the revised Oceania regional qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2021 – a play-off against Samoa in Apia on 18 April with the winner progressing to the repechage that will determine the final qualifier for New Zealand 2021.

The victory will also lift Tonga to their highest ever position of 27th in the World Rugby Women's Rankings when they update at 12:00 GMT on Monday, with Papua New Guinea falling two to 43rd in defeat.

The Tongans had overwhelmed the Cassowaries 62-26 in their only previous meeting in November 2018, but Sunday's encounter was a much closer affair settled with an 80th minute try by centre Pesalini Heehau.

Papua New Guinea enjoyed a dream start with winger Vanessa Semoso going over in the corner in the second minute of the historic match, but it didn't take long for Tonga to respond through their own winger Siutiti Ma'ake.

Centre Manusiu Kei gave Tonga the lead in the 20th minute but the Cassowaries hit back within four minutes when Melissa Maino. However, tries by second-row Susana Tupou and number eight Tililia Hifo gave Tonga a 22-12 lead at half-time.

“Big win for Tongan women”

It took Papua New Guinea only 40 seconds to cut the deficit with a try from the kick-off, centre Maino crossing for her second of the match with Ma'ake receiving a yellow card in the play. 

The home side couldn't make their advantage count while Ma'ake was off the field and when Tonga also lost replacement front-row Mele Akuila to the sin-bin with just over 10 minutes to play it was the visitors who struck through Ruby Tangulu.

Joanna Lagona set up a tense finale when the full-back crossed to cut the deficit to 29-24 with five minutes to play. There wasn't to be a first test victory for Papua New Guinea to mark the historic day with Heehau wrapping up the win for Tonga. 

“This win is big for us as Tongan women, not only for Tonga but also for us Pacific women and it’s such a privilege to play here in PNG,” said Tonga captain Va’aiga Moimoi.

“It was a very physical game today and I know everyone enjoyed it. It’s just growing for us women and I would like to thank everyone who has supported us on this journey.

“We’re looking forward to play Samoa in April and we know it’s going to be a physical encounter, but our goal was to win this game and keep going forward.”

Photos: Oceania Rugby

WRWC 2017 final: New Zealand v England
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Watch LIVE rugby TODAY ... New Zealand v England, RWC 2017
On Friday, rugby fans get the chance to watch the classic Rugby World Cup final of 2017, featuring the top two sides in the world, New Zealand’s Black Ferns and England’s Red Roses.
Get Into Rugby PLUS
Women's Feature News GIR Women in Rugby
GIR PLUS impact felt on and off the pitch
Noame Rabeni, a Get Into Rugby PLUS coach in Fiji, talks to World Rugby about the positive affect the programme has had on her and her students.
England v Wales - Women's Six Nations
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Accidental referee McLachlan hoping for RWC homecoming
Amber McLachlan took up refereeing as an antidote to a long-term injury but after more than seven years of hard work has set her sights on a place at Rugby World Cup 2021.
US Women's Eagles player Tess Feury (centre)
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
Women's Eagles star nursing the sick in New Jersey
We highlight more members of the rugby family working tirelessly to help people during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Women's Eagles player Tess Feury.
Guatemala v El Salvador
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
Guatemala and El Salvador make history
The women's teams of Guatemala and El Salvador played their first international match earlier this month, breaking new ground in their respective countries.
Rugby Europe Trophy 2020: Germany v Switzerland
Men's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Swiss build for a sustainable future
Rugby Suisse CEO Veronika Muehlhofer says there is more to the success of rugby in the country than a record World Rugby Men’s Ranking of 28th.
Filoi Eneliko
Olympics Women's Feature News GIR Olympic Qualifying Tournament News Women in Rugby
Eneliko standing up for women in the Pacific
Former Samoa sevens player Filoi Eneliko discusses the reasons behind her decision to participate in the inaugural Women's Sport Leadership Academy for High Performance Coaches.
Nathalie Amiel - HOF 1
Women's Feature News Hall of Fame Tournament News Women in Rugby
Nathalie Amiel: The 'country girl' turned Hall of Fame inductee
Former France international and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Nathalie Amiel, who won 56 caps and experienced five Rugby World Cups as a player and a coach, discusses her incredible career in the game.
World Rugby logo
Media release Women's News Women in Rugby
World Rugby extends Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarships programme after global success
Ahead of International Women’s Day, World Rugby has announced an extension of its Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship programme.
Aimee Barrett-Theron
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Barrett-Theron 'excited for women's rugby' following Euro trip'
South African referee Aimee Barrett-Theron caught up with World Rugby following her recent experience in the Women's Six Nations.