Tonga are through to the Asia/Pacific playoff for a place at the 2023 World Cup in France after beating the Cook Islands 54-10 in Pukekohe on Saturday.
It was the Cook Islands who opened the scoring with a penalty through halfback Tokahirere Sopoaga to get a 3-0 lead.
The first quarter of the match was dominated by basic errors, and with the Kukis line speed adding some pressure, it took 19 minutes before 'Ikale Tahi started to find some momentum.
Tonga's front row was crucial to their performance, creating opportunities to hold the ball in the scrum.
Forcing the ball out and with a quick shift to the left, coupled with some quick footwork from winger Fifita Walter, he crossed to put first points on the board for Tonga. Flyhalf James Faiva added the extras to lead 7-3.
A solid carry from centre Sam Vaka saw them get over their advantage line with some space on the left. Fifita Walter carried it down shaking off three defenders, before offloading it back to Vaka who ran over the line to collect another 5. Perfect off the boot, Faiva converted and Tonga were up 14-3.
It didn't take long for the Cooks to reply, seeing an opportunity from their line-out. Hooker Ben Tou charged over, bringing them right back into the game. Sopoaga with the kick and the Cooks reduced the deficit 14-10.
The Kukis looked to be taking advantage of Tonga's errors, but two more to 'Ikale Tahi before the hooter saw them take a 26-10 lead to the sheds.
Tonga were straight out the gates in the second half, with captain Sonatane Takulua scoring back-to-back tries. Faiva converted to extend their lead 40-10.
The Cook Island boys were determined right to the end, but a second try to Sione Tuipolotu and one for Paula Mahe on his test debut saw them win 54-10, securing their play off against the Asian Champions for a spot in Pool B of the Rugby World Cup.
FULLTIME ➡️ 54 - 10 @officialTongaRU keep their @rugbyworldcup journey alive with a solid win over @cirugby in the #RWC2023— Oceania Rugby (@oceaniarugby) July 24, 2021
Asia/Pacific Qualifier in Pukekohe
#TONvCOK #OceaniaRugby pic.twitter.com/za9yGBzXv6
Ikale Tahi coach Toutai Kefu said he was relieved to get the win, after what has been a challenging four weeks.
"You just don't know about those games, and the first 10 minutes they put up a really really good fight," he said.
"We knew if we kept the pressure on we could finally break them and we thought probably just after half time we could feel a little more comfortable, but to their credit we understand all the challenges they go through, so we're very happy and relieved to get the win tonight."