Cassie Siataga inspires Samoa to first Oceania crown

The Samoa fly-half scored all her side's points as they won the Oceania Rugby Women's Championship 2023 title in dramatic style against Fiji.

Cassie Siataga held her nerve to kick Samoa to a dramatic 19-18 victory against Fiji that secured a first ever Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship title and their place in WXV 2.

Following an epic decider on Australia’s Gold Coast, it looked as though Fijiana had done enough to win the match, and their fourth championship, when Adita Milinia went over with less than three minutes on the clock.

That gave the defending champions a two-point lead and possession, but Ana Naimasi kicked it into touch, mistakenly believing that time was up.

Referee Ella Goldsmith subsequently signalled for the lineout to be taken, from which Samoa won a penalty and Siataga, who scored all her side’s 19 points, sent it through the uprights to kickstart jubilant scenes on the pitch and in the stands at Bond University.

Samoa will now take their place in WXV 2 as Oceania champions, alongside qualified teams Scotland, Japan and South Africa, when the tournament kicks off in Cape Town on 14 October.

“Honestly, I’m really speechless,” Manusina captain Sui Pauaraisa said. “We knew that we were the underdogs, we knew we had nothing to lose.

“We knew that Fiji was going to be our test throughout this whole tournament and that they were the champs from the Super W, and they beat us last year. I’m so proud and grateful for these girls, we hustled from that first whistle to the last minute.”

Defeat was Fiji’s first in the championship since 2019 and means they will compete in WXV 3 this October, alongside Ireland, Kazakhstan and Kenya.

“It’s quite heart-breaking. We’re disappointed, the girls are gutted but, in the end, the better team won and rugby won,” Fijiana captain Sereima Leweniqila said.

“It was a real battle, Samoa came out hard. We didn’t execute some moves but congratulations to Samoa for a great win.”

Fiji had won the corresponding fixture 34-21 in New Zealand 11 months ago, but with rain coming down, the championship’s two unbeaten teams played out a much cagier affair at Bond University.

It took until the end of the first quarter for Siataga to kick the first points of the match, and Samoa held onto their lead until the 31st minute when Vani Arei scored the opening try.

Manusina’s defence was impressive throughout but tied up by sustained Fijian pressure a gap appeared that was exploited by Naimasi, whose offload found Arei in space.

Luisa Tisolo missed the conversion but struck a penalty of her own on the stroke of half-time to give her side an 8-3 lead at the break.

That advantage was wiped out within four minutes of the restart, however, as Siataga took a quick tap and powered over from close range, before adding the extras herself.

Again, it was a lead they could not hold onto though, as a see-saw match took another turn when rampaging Fijiana prop Siteri Rasolea scored with her last involvement before being replaced.

In keeping with the nature of the contest, two further Satiaga penalties – either side of a missed Bella Milo drop-goal attempt – edged Samoa back in front, at 16-13.

That is how the scores stayed until a blockbuster final five minutes. First, Fiji fly-half Tisolo made a lightning break that was recycled through Raijieli Daveua before replacement Milinia added the scoring touch.

Tisolo missed a tough, touchline conversion but that appeared not to matter as Fiji regained possession from the restart. That was until Naimasi kicked the ball out of play, and Siataga, the tournament’s top points-scorer, ultimately made Fijiana pay.

Earlier on Sunday, Tonga wrapped up a bonus-point 30-22 win against Papua New Guinea despite being reduced to 14 players for the final 14 minutes due to a red card.

Victory ensured Tonga finished the championship in third place.

Last updated: Jun 26, 2023, 8:56:59 AM
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