Sat 13 May 2023, Apia Park, Samoa. Source: World Rugby. Skipper Melani Matavao led the Manuma Samoa to secure second place in the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2023 after a 44-33 victory over Japan at Apia Park.
Manuma Samoa and Junior Japan went into the final day locked on five points each and played out a see-saw match that remained close until the final 20 minutes when Captain Extraordinare Melani Matavao stepped up to leadership to seal the deal for Samoa’s 11-point margin victory.
Junior Seuteni Alivaa scored the first of his three tries in only the fourth minute, converted by Afa Moleli, before Junior Japan hit back almost immediately through Kosho Muto.
Kota Nagashima crossed the whitewash in the 13th minute to give Junior Japan the lead but the hosts levelled it again within three minutes as Uta Taaititi scored.
Nagashima crossed for the second time in the 21st minute and it was Junior Japan who led at half-time, 26-17, after the teams traded further tries, through Kirisimasi Savaiinaea and Yoshiki Omachi, at the end of the first half.
Seuteni Alivaa struck twice in the opening six minutes of the second half to complete his hat-trick and give Manuma Samoa a slender one-point lead.
Junior Japan retook the lead in the 53rd minute as Genki Ikuta scored a try that was converted by Yoshiki Omachi.
With 20 minutes to go Samoa’s captain said enough is enough. His leadership sorely missed by the Manu Samoa 7s side, Melani Matavao scored two tries and a booted over a penalty in the final 20 minutes of the match to confirm Samoa’s 44-33 victory and second place in the standings.
Matavao moved from the Manu Samoa 7s to concentrate on 15s rugby with the aim of making the Manu Samoa squad for the Rugby World Cup this year.
Fiji Warriors were crowned World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2023 champions after bonus point wins over Tonga (73-25) and Samoa (50-25) before ending the tournament with a 72-15 annihilation of Junior Japan.
Coached by Leiataualesa Saumaniafaese Hanipale, the Manuma Samoa also secured a comfortable 69-7 win over Tonga.
It was the first time Samoa had hosted the regional Pacific rugby competition in 13 years.