Whatever else happened in the Tonga v. Wales game at the Totally Wicked Stadium in St Helens, history would be made as a female referee, Kasey Badger from the NRL, took charge for the first time ever in a World Cup match.
Wales lost narrowly to Cook Islands in their opening game and knew that defeat today would effectively end their competition in the, so-called, group of death against a Tongan side who defeated Papua New Guinea by six points in their opening game.
Tonga were the clear favourites to win the first ever meeting between the two sides and were given a forty-six point handicap on the bookies coupon before kick-off. John Kear´s side had a mountain to climb to give themselves something to play for in their final game.
Wales were awesome in defence in the opening minutes as they thwarted and frustrated an expansive Tongan attack.
On eleven minutes Dalton Grant was held up over the line on Wales´s first scoring opportunity of the game but they were growing in confidence.
A high tackle on Anthony Walker saw Wales turn down the opportunity of two points, electing to run the ball. On fifteen minutes it was Wales who sensationally hit the front when Kyle Evans took a pass to bust through the line and run home from forty metres to score. Matty Fozard added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
Tonga went in for their first try on twenty-one as the game sprang to life. A passing move from the back of the scrum found Daniel Tupou in plenty of space to go outside the Wales winger and score in the corner. Siosiua Taukeiaho put his kick wide of the far post, the Welsh still with a two-point lead.
Wales received repeat penalties as they again marched towards the Tongan line. Fozard went close on the third tackle, but the defence held firm. Wales were frustrating Tonga, and they were becoming increasingly undisciplined as the half wore on.
Four minutes before the interval Tonga hit the front when David Fifita took the pass ten metres out and crashed through a tackler to score by the right upright. Tui Lolohea added the conversion for 10-6, Wales unable to hold their lead until the interval, but it was to get worse for them.
Thirty second before the half time hooter and Tonga were in again Keaon Kolomatangi taking a pass on the Welsh ten metre line to shrug off h is tackler and go over. Lolohea was again on target for a 16-6 interval lead. Wales had it all to do in the second half.
A dogged effort by Tesi Niu dancing through the Welsh defence from ten metres out saw the first try of the second half on forty-seven minutes. Lolohea hit the target again for a lead of 22-6.
On fifty-eight Tupou got his second of the night after a six-again for a lift increased the pressure on the Welsh. Siosifa Talakai put in the final pass for his winger to go over. Lolohea was way off target with his conversion attempt.
A sensational Tonga try on sixty-five was ruled out by the video referee after the ball was seen to touch the line before a sensational flick back into play.
On seventy Tupou completed his hat-trick with the last try of the game after patient build up and another pinpoint Talakai pass allowing him to again score in the corner. Talakai took over the kicking duties and found the target from the touchline.
Wales were brilliant in the opening half an hour but as they tired it was Tonga who came into their own and started to build momentum. The double whammy just before half time secured the win and while they were unable to meet the bookies expectations on score line, they did cruise to a comfortable win to secure their progress in the competition.
Tonga: Niu (T), Tupou (3T), Talakai (G), Hurrell, Katoa S, Amone, Lolohea (3G), Fonua-Blake, Luke, Fotuaika, Kaufisi, Koloamatangi (T), Taukeiaho. Subs: Koula, Tatola, Fifita (T), Murdoch-Masila.
Wales: Aekins, Evans K (T), Grant, Kear, Williams, Ralph, Olds, Ralph, Walker, Fozard (G), Bennion, Butler, Antrobus, Burke. Subs: Fleming, Curtis Davies, Connor Davies, Hopkins.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 8-6, 10-6, 14-6, 16-6 : HT : 20-6, 22-6, 26-6, 30-6, 32-6: FT .
Lead Exchanges: Wales - Tonga.
Referee: Kasey Badger.
Attendance: 7,752 at the Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens.