NZ Under-20s make strong start

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Lynn McConnell     26 Apr 2019     Getty Images

The score belied the effort the Fijians put in, especially in the first half, and it did not help their cause when they lost wing Epeli Momo sent off minutes into the second half for a dangerous tackle on New Zealand halfback Leroy Carter.

But the power of the New Zealand scrum, and lineout play, marked a difference while the agility and ball handling of the pack ensured plenty of continuity which stretched the Fijian defences, especially when the score blew out in the final quarter.
Fiji looked to put New Zealand under pressure in the first quarter. They first employed their lineout drive from a penalty kick to the corner but New Zealand were able to successfully sack the maul to clear their line, and then after Fiji looked to move the ball deep into the 22m area, they knocked the ball on.

The New Zealanders absorbed the pressure with good defence and then as space opened up they made good ground through No.8 Devan Flanders.

Flanders got the ball and broke through in midfield but lost the ball in the 19th minute. However, the resulting scrum saw the New Zealanders overpower the Fijians to gain a tighthead, and a penalty which first five-eighths Fergus Burke landed.
Bringing the ball back from the restart it was Flanders who set play in motion with another drive which saw the ball fed to Burke who took the gap on the short side and then flung a long pass to left wing Sam Gilbert who only had to dive over in the corner for the opening try.

Fiji refused to bow down however, and after halfback Tokumotutama Sailo was just wide with a 47m penalty goal attempt, Fiji ran the ball from their own half when fullback Kaminieli Rasaku slipped an in-pass to second five-eighths Veresa Ramototabua, who charged ahead and linked again with Rasaku. His kick ahead was taken by a New Zealand defender but there was an infringement in the maul, and Fiji took a tap kick and moved the ball wide for wing Ilaisa Droasese to score in the 37th minute.

However, Fiji's clearance of the restart was weak and New Zealand mounted an attack from the lineout and Carter slipped a grubber kick behind the Fijian defenders and centre Quinn Tupaea raced through to get the bounce and go over in the tackle beneath the posts although he had to roll over to get the ball down.

Fiji had the worst possible start to the second half when reduced to 14. New Zealand launched an immediate response from their kick to the corner. Prop Ollie Norris mounted a strong surge into the goalmouth beating off three tacklers before setting up the ruck which allowed lock Tupou Vaa'i to score.

Heading into the final quarter, New Zealand began to take more toll of Fijian mistakes and from a turnover created by stripping ball, the ball was moved through replacement Cullen Grace to right wing Lalomilo Lalomilo who charged down the sideline before setting up a ruck. Replacement Rivez Reihana drove the ball ahead and then as it came clear Lalomilo barged his way across the line.

With their substitutes coming on during the final quarter, New Zealand poured on the pressure and if Fiji thought there would be some respite with Norris, hooker Kianu Symes and tighthead prop Kaliopase Uluilakepa being replaced, they soon learned otherwise.

Replacement props George Dyer, Fletcher Newell and hooker Shilo Klein showed their touches with some fine work in the tight with Klein scoring a 69th minute try after throwing the ball into a lineout in the corner and then running around to get on the back of the driving maul to take the ball over.

Then Dyer was in the action again after Fiji failed to cover a downfield kick by replacement halfback Taufa Funaki and Dyer secured the ball and linked with Tupaea, who then found Vaa'a looming up in support and the big lock stretched out in the tackle to ground the ball in the 71st minute.

Scorers: New Zealand Under-20 53 (Sam Gilbert, Quinn Tupaea 2, Tupou Vaa'i 2, Leroy Carter, Lalomilo Lalomilo, Shilo Klein tries; Fergus Burke 2 con, pen; Rivez Reihana 3 con) Fiji Under-20 7 (Ilaisa Droasese tries; Tokumotutame Sailo con). HT: 15-7