WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Vereniki Goneva was both hero and villain as Pacific Nations Cup champion Fiji suffered a surprise 27-19 loss to Tonga in a one-off rugby test in Lautoka on Saturday.
Goneva touched down in the second half to equal Fiji’s test try-scoring record of 20, set by the late Sainivalati Laulau during the 1980s, but was later sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on.
In his absence, Tonga scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua kicked a penalty to put his team back in front then replacement flanker Dan Faleafa scored a late try to secure Tonga’s first win over Fiji since 2011.
Fiji had secured the Pacific Nations Cup for the fourth straight year when it beat Georgia 35-17 last weekend after defeating Samoa a week earlier.
But Saturday’s loss to Tonga gave its neighbors regional bragging rights with Tonga coach, former Australian World Cup winner Toutai Kefu, suggesting his team had claims to being the best in the South Pacific region.
Tonga led Fiji early after a try from hooker Paula Ngauamo but the home side hit back when scrumhalf Frank Lomani capped a rare starting appearance with his third test try and the teams went to halftime level at 7-7.
Lock Steve Mafi gave Tonga a 14-7 lead early in the second half but Fiji once responded, first through Goneva’s try, then with a spectacular try to lock Viliami Mata who ran 75 meters after an intercept by center Jale Vatubua.
Fiji led 19-14 but failed to score again as Tonga piled on 13 unanswered points from two penalties and Faleafa’s late converted try.