Tonga survive scare to beat Lebanon in thriller and reach World Cup semis
|Rugby League World Cup quarter-final|
|Tonga (22) 24|
|Tries: Lolohea, Fusitu’a (2), Hopoate Goals: Hingano (4)|
|Lebanon (16) 22|
|Tries: Doueihi, Elias, Miski (2) Goals: Moses (3)|
Tonga survived a major scare against Lebanon in a thrilling match in Christchurch to reach the last four of the Rugby League World Cup.
Lebanon trailed by just six points at the break and had a try after the restart ruled out by the video referee.
The Cedars eventually scored through Abbas Miski, closing the gap to two points with 10 minutes remaining.
But they could not find another score as a tired Tonga held on to reach the last four for the first time.
They will next play either England or Papua New Guinea who meet on Sunday at 05:00 GMT.
Tough going for Tonga
Tonga provided the highlight of the tournament so far when they defeated co-hosts New Zealand in a bruising encounter in Hamilton to finish top of Group B.
It was an emotional occasion for Kristian Woolf’s side, with a pre-match haka that will live long in the memory.
The Pacific Islanders came from 16-2 down to defeat the Kiwis 28-22 and it looked good for them on Saturday when they took an early lead against Lebanon through Tuimoala Lolohea after a break down the right.
A try from Adam Doueihi levelled the scores but the weight of Tongan pressure began to tell and a superb finish in tight space on the right by David Fusitu’a restored the lead.
A repeat set saw Will Hopoate over on the left after Andrew Fifita slipped a wonder ball out in the tackle and it looked at one point as though Tonga would pull away, even after James Elias touched down a kick after Mitchell Moses cut through the Tonga middle to reduce the deficit.
Fusitua soared to take a Hingano kick and touch down on the right but the signs were there that it could be a long afternoon for them when Abbas Miski scored to ensure the Tongans led by just six points at the break.
And despite showing in glimpses the powerful running and huge tackling that has characterised their tournament, Tonga were second best after the restart.
They looked tired as the match wore on and were clinging on at the end as the momentum had shifted decisively to their opponents.
A memorable World Cup for Lebanon
Lebanon, a team made up largely of part-time players bolstered by a smattering of established professionals, can look back with some pride on their second World Cup.
They beat France and were gutsy in defeat against England and Australia in their group stages.
And marshalled by Robbie Farah and the superb Mitchell Moses, they played streetwise, smart rugby against Tonga and were arguably unlucky to finish on the losing side.
“I’m pretty heartbroken at the moment,” said man of the match Moses afterwards. “The boys dug deep, a few calls did not go against us.”
And veteran Farah, who plays for South Sydney Rabbitohs, added: “It was a game that was there to be won and I’m gutted. We just could not get that try to get us in front. I’m just so proud of the effort of all the boys.”
The key phase of the match arguably came shortly after the restart when England video assistant Ben Thaler overturned a try that had been given on the field.
It was brilliantly created by Parramatta half-back Moses, whose reverse pass picked out Doueihi to score what he thought was his second try of the match.
But Thaler ruled that decoy runner Ray Moujalli had obstructed the defensive line – the third time in the game that Lebanon had a score ruled out.
And when Ata Hingano converted a penalty from midfield after 53 minutes the Tongans had the much-needed comfort of an eight-point lead.
It proved to be crucial, because although Lebanon scored six more points than their opponents in the second half the kick from Hingano ensured that Tonga stayed just in front.