Underdogs Tonga snatched an 18-18 draw in injury time against Samoa to launch the Pacific Nations Cup tournament in dramatic fashion in Apia on Saturday.
The clock had ticked a minute past full-time with Manu Samoa clinging to an 18-15 lead when Tongan lock Josh Afu was pulled down in a lineout.
Referee Wayne Barnes had no hesitation awarding the penalty and Tongan replacement back Fangatapu Apikotoa calmly slotted the difficult 40-metre shot at goal.
Before a capacity crowd of more than 14,000, Samoa — ranked ninth in the world, four places higher than Tonga — were expected to produce a much improved performance from when they were humbled 33-14 by Japan last month.
But the injection of their senior professionals from Europe, who were absent in Tokyo, did little to lift their game and the crowd was silenced in the 21st minute when Tonga’s right winger, Otulea Katoa scooted over to score the first try of the match.
Fly-half Latiume Fosita landed the conversion from wide out for the visitors to lead 7-0.
In the closing stages of the first half, Fautua Otto opened Samoa’s account with a 65-metre run to the line before Afu crossed for Tonga to turn with a 12-5 lead.
A penalty by Tusi Pisi at the 60-minute mark saw Samoa close the gap to two points, and with 12 minutes to go Samoa captain David Lemi scored with Pisi’s conversion giving the home side the lead for the first time.
In a whirlwind end to the game Latiume landed a penalty for Tonga to level the scores at 15-15, Samoa immediately edged ahead with another Pisi penalty before Fangatapu stepped up to land the equaliser.