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Tonga rallies to upset Scotland for first time

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Associated Press
11/24/2012 1:26:17 PM
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ABERDEEN -- Tonga humbled Scotland for the first time in rugby on Saturday, coming from 15-10 down after an hour to triumph 21-15 at Pittodrie Stadium.

The result was all the more remarkable as three Tongans were sin-binned and the team played for more than 20 minutes down a man and briefly at the end with 13.

"The boys wrote a bit of history for themselves today," coach Mana Otai said. "Last year we beat the French; back in 1973 Tonga beat the Wallabies - occasions we don't forget easily."

Tonga scored the only two tries of the game, both in the second half, against five penalties to Scotland flyhalf Greig Laidlaw from seven attempts.

"That was a totally unacceptable performance we've witnessed today," Scotland coach Andy Robinson said.

"From my side I'm very angry. There will be consequences because of this performance. I won't go through yet what those will be. It reflects on me."

Scotland, the Six Nations wooden-spoon holders who revived their fortunes with June tour wins in Australia, Fiji and Samoa, finished the year with successive defeats to New Zealand, South Africa and Tonga and without a win at home. Meanwhile, Tonga celebrated its biggest victory since toppling France in last year's World Cup.

The Scots had more than enough territory and possession to add to their two previous wins over Tonga in 1995 and 2001. They had 17 lineouts and stole three of Tonga's throw-ins, and enjoyed a penalty count of 23 to 12. But Scotland fumbled passes everywhere and could never quite escape from the Tongans' clutches.

The home side paid for its inability to score more against a side with a never-say-die mentality. The Tongans, who were edged by Italy and came from behind to beat the United States a week ago, used their tackle-busting ability to ultimately create tries for flanker Lua Lokotui and, decisively, right winger Fetu'u Vainikolo. Flyhalf Fangatapu 'Apikotoa added 11 points from his boot.

"We were so desperate to win today and the boys showed a great effort," captain Nili Latu said. "We played our heart out today for our nation. It's going to make a huge difference.

"Rugby is the soul of Tonga and it's going to bring our people together."

French referee Mathieu Raynal made his impatience known with Tonga's frequent fouls by sin-binning Lokotui in the 33rd minute for obstruction at a lineout. Laidlaw kicked Scotland to a 6-3 lead at halftime.

When Lokotui returned in the second half, he finished a string of pick-and-go's to score in the 53rd. 'Apikotoa's conversion put Tonga 10-9 ahead.

Laidlaw kicked two more penalties to give Scotland a five-point lead entering the last quarter. But within four minutes 'Apikotoa had kicked a penalty and Vainikolo finished a counterattack by haring down the left touchline to score his fourth try for Tonga and an 18-15 lead.

Moments later, Latu was yellow-carded for jumping onto a maul. Replacement Scotland flyhalf Tom Heathcote's penalty chance fell short but 'Apikotoa kicked his third penalty to make it 21-15 with eight minutes to go.

Substitute Steve Mafi was sin-binned to leave Tonga with 13, but Latu returned to help stall an attacking scrum by Scotland. The match finished with Heathcote dropping a pass from Rory Lawson.

"We knew that was going to be a tough game," Robinson said. "They tackled well; they dominated the tackle contest.

"The penalty count was high so it became a disjointed game. We got over the line twice with a maul, but you've got to get the ball down. You've got to be able to control the scoreboard in these games. Unfortunately it became a fight and a mess. We weren't very good in the mess."

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Tonga 21 (Lua Lokotui, Fetu'u Vainikolo tries; Fangatapu 'Apikotoa conversion, 3 penalties), Scotland 15 (Greig Laidlaw 5 penalties). HT: 3-6

Tonga rugby (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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