Wales 17-7 Tonga: IRB Nominee Leigh Halfpenny Boots Welsh to Victory

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Wales 17-7 Tonga: IRB Nominee Leigh Halfpenny Boots Welsh to Victory
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Leigh Halfpenny celebrated his inclusion on the International Rugby Board Player of the Year shortlist, via Sky Sports, with a seven-point haul with his boot to help Wales defeat Tonga 17-7 at the Millennium Stadium.

Owen Williams and Ashley Beck both scored tries during a disappointing match against the Pacific Islanders in which Warren Gatland's team failed to pierce their opponents in the second half despite dominating possession.

Wales captain Ryan Jones earned the plaudits for his display as he created a Welsh record of leading the team out for the 33rd occasion. 

Wales were dealt a blow before kick-off when flanker Andrew Coombs withdrew from the team with a back injury. Dan Lydiate replaced him and Alun-Wyn Jones stepped up to the bench.

The Welsh team, playing in an unfamiliar all-grey strip, got off to a flying start when they claimed a scrum 10 metres from the opposition line less than 30 seconds into the game.

Luke Charteris appeared to have the ball stolen from him after the set-piece, though, and the Tongans cleared the danger.

Wales looked to have scored their first points in the sixth minute when Ryan Jones charged down a Tonga clearance from a line-out, and the ball dropped to Lloyd Williams. But after a call to the video official, referee Mike Fraser ruled out the try as the scrum-half had failed to place the ball.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

Halfpenny did gain the first points for Wales with a penalty after 14 minutes before Hook fed the full-back to begin the move that set up Owen Williams to burst through the Tonga back line and cross the line.

The trusted boot of Halfpenny, who was named on the shortlist for the IRB Player of the Year award earlier on Friday, ensured a 10-0 scoreline for the home side.

Referee Fraser reviewed Sione Kalamafoni's late tackle on Hook during the buildup to the try, but the Tongan flanker stayed on the field.

Wales went further ahead in the 25th minute when George North kept his nerve under pressure from Tonga and found Hook, who, in turn, played the ball wide to Beck.

The centre showed great feet to outfox his opponents and score the second try of the night, which Halfpenny converted to give the home side a 17-0 lead.

But Tonga regained a foothold on the game when Will Helu broke clear after a smart offload by Sione Kalamafoni of Gloucester, and Latiume Fosita converted to make it 17-7 at half-time.

Wales debutant Hallam Amos was denied a try when the TMO adjudged his trailing foot had been in touch when he threw himself across the Tonga line.

But there was concern when Tonga flanker Kalamafoni suffered a head injury in a challenge during the buildup to the disallowed score. The Gloucester forward did not want to leave the field, but he was taken off after treatment on the field and was replaced by Hale T-Pole.

Charteris broke free from a line-out and looked certain to score, but the ball slipped from his hands as he crossed the line after 62 minutes.

North went over after 70 minutes, but referee Fraser disallowed the score for Charteris obstructing a Tonga tackle after going to the TMO.

But Wales could not turn their possession into points in a poor second period in front of 46,523 supporters. 

 

Wales: Halfpenny, North, O. Williams, Beck, Amos, Hook, L. Williams, James, Owens, R. Jones, Charteris, Evans, Lydiate, Tipuric, R. Jones.

Replacements: E. Phillips, Bevington, Lee, A. Jones, Warburton, R. Williams, Priestland, J. Williams.

 

Tonga: Lilo, Vainikolo, Piutau, Piukala, Helu, Fosita, Moa, Aholelei, Taione, Puafisi, Lokotui, Tu'ineau, Kalamafoni, Latu, Ma'afu.

Replacements: Taufalele, Vea, Mailau, T-Pole, Fonua, Fisilau, 'Apikotoa, T. Halaifonua.

 

Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand).

 

Post-match reaction

Wales international George North told the official Welsh Rugby Union website:

We had chances out there, we just weren't clinical enough in the right areas.

We had a lot of turnovers which are basic skills for us and we left a lot of tries out there. It was one of those frustrating days at the office.

 It was great for Owen to get a try, we've been working hard on our support play and general running lines and he took it very well.

 Tonga came out hard, hit hard and from one to 15, we felt that today. Defensively, they were very strong.

 I think we're a bit frustrated. We went out there and tried to overachieve. I think we need to do our basics right, run hard and play our tempo, we just tried too hard. At the end of the day, it's not what we set out to do but a win is a win.

 Our defence held strong except for the first half and in the second half, we could have conceded an easy try but we stayed strong and worked together.

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