Fiji have come from behind to beat Tonga 30-22 in a bone-jarring Pacific Nations Cup encounter in Suva.
In a clash full of direct running and big tackles on Saturday, Tonga had every chance to beat their island neighbours for the first time since 2011, leading 22-16 going into the last 15 minutes before a high error count caught up with them.
There were three tries apiece with Fiji scoring two of theirs as they controlled the closing stages to make a positive start to the 10th edition of the tournament.
The Pacific Nations Cup – which also includes Samoa, Japan, USA and Canada – is being played under a new format with the six teams split into two pools.
Each will play the three sides in the opposing pool before the top two sides play off for the Cup.
In the only game to be played in the Pacific, with the remainder in the US and Canada, Tonga rocked the 2013 champions with a punishing start.
With Nili Latu and Taniela Moa leading a straight-up-the-middle approach, they pinned the Fijians in the own territory for most of the first quarter and eventually came away with a try to Exeter wing Fetu’u Vainikolo.
It was Tonga’s only reward from their early territorial advantage with Latiume Fosita missing the conversion and two close-range penalties.
His kicking woes were symptomatic of Tonga’s high error rate and they were made to pay once Fiji settled into a rhythm and the territory pendulum swung.
After Fiji twice failed to score from lineouts after turning down kickable penalties, they opted for the posts the third time and fly-half Ben Volavola put them on the board.
They hit the front when Henry Seniloli touched down after a big run down the right wing by Lepani Botia who swatted would-be defenders aside.
On the stroke of half-time Tonga switched kickers and were rewarded with a penalty by fullback Vungakoto Lilo to close the gap to 10-8.
Tonga regained the lead after half-time with a try to Telusa Veainu, converted by Lilo, and after Volavola put Fiji back in front 16-15 with two further penalties, Tonga again gained the initiative when Sonatane Takulua scored.
But Fiji were not done and came back with tries to Waisea Nayacalevu and Peni Ravai, both converted by Volavola.