On a wet and windy Saturday at BCI Stadium, the Tahitians claimed their first-ever victory over an undisciplined Cook Islands team, who were unable to breach their opponents’ try line.
The visitors claimed first blood after two minutes through the boot of Andoni Jimenez, who otherwise struggled to kick in the tough conditions.
Goal kicking, on the other hand, was probably the only Kuki highlight, as Jamian Iroa equalled the score minutes later with the first of his three penalties.
It was a very ill-disciplined game from the home side, who at times looked more interested in fighting their opponents, who had significant physical advantages.
Hulking Tahiti props Martin Taeae and Patrick Tevero seemed to intimidate their opponents, as poor first-up tackling allowed for easy metres after contact.
While the visitors’ defence was not exceptional, life was made easier for them as the Kukis were impotent in attack, sideways running and poor carrying making them easy targets.
Coach Walter Tangata refused to use the weather as an excuse for the lacklustre local attack, saying rugby required teams to play to the conditions to win.
As the Cook Islanders grew increasingly frustrated at their lack of successful attacks, they resorted to ineffective “chip and chases” or sweeping backline play that was not suited to the conditions.
This eventually boiled over as the referee Alan Aiolupotea began to dominate the match by giving out cards to an excessive degree. Five yellow cards and two red threatened to spoil the match.
“I won’t comment on the referee. He had a job to do and it’s not up to me to judge how he did it,” Tangata said after the match.
The only tries were scored from close range, one after a clever cross-field kick by Jimenez was scooped up by winger Vincent Perez, and another after successive pick-and-go drives were finished by scrumhalf Guillaume Brouqui.
The second half was a scoreless affair, though not lacking in suspense as the large crowd of spectators got more and more anxious.
Though they would not have deserved the win, the local side very nearly pulled it off after a comedy of errors from the Tahitians.
Thinking that the clock had run out, captain and loose forward Tunui Anania booted the ball directly into touch from a penalty, as the bench cheered, nearly storming the field.
However, Aiolupotea called for a lineout, after which Tahiti were penalised for a crooked throw.
The extreme pressure led to the best sequence of play from the home side, as they made their way up the field.
The end was still heartbreak, as a knock-on near the try line summed up the game for the Cook Islanders, who had beenw heavily favoured due to their far superior IRB rankings.
Kuki captain Francis Smith as understandably disappointed with the shock loss, though he still congratulated the winning side, and thanked the fans for their support.
“The boys were disappointed with the result but proud to be Cook Islanders and the team will come back from this loss,” Smith said.
Winning captain Anania, who earlier in the week had said losing by less than 30 points would still be a success, was aware of the two countries’ rugby rivalry, having been on the end of some heavy defeats.
“I am very proud of the guys. For us this is a historical victory. The first time winning the Oceania Rugby Cup (was) made more beautiful as it was our first win against the Cook Islands.”
- Conor Leathley
Tahiti 13 (TRIES: Perez, Brouqui | PENS: Jimenez | YC: Taeae, Tekurio| RC: Taeae) defeated Cook Islands 9 (PENS: Iroa 3 | YC: Mullany, Willis, Havi, | RC: Leuta)