Ram Sami Naitasiri secured a hard-fought 20-13 win over Nadroga, despite being reduced to 14 men in difficult weather conditions at Ratu Cakobau Park today, claiming the prestigious Reverend Joji Rinakama shield.
Etonia Rokotuisawa played a key role, contributing 15 points from five successful penalty attempts.
The win is Naitasiri’s fourth consecutive victory in the Skipper Cup with wins over Macuata (29-25), Nadi (16-14) and Namosi (24-22).
However Naitaisiri coach Dr Ilaitia Tuisese Jnr expressed mixed feelings with the results saying: “It is always good to come away with a win against a champion side like Nadroga. But we can’t win the Cup with indiscipline.”
Battling the continuous rain, windy conditions, and heavy underfoot, the two teams struggled to maintain possession through what was a thrilling encounter.
Of the two, perhaps out of familiarity with the weather conditions and the venue as hosts, Naitasiri earned two early penalty goals courtesy of Rokotuisawa, leading 6-0 by the 13th minute.Throughout the first half, Nadroga struggled to break through Naitasiri’s solid defense. The hosts maintained their composure and capitalised on Nadroga’s errors, adding another penalty goal in the 29th minute, with Rokotuisawa stepping up once again to make it three from three, extending Naitasiri’s lead to 9-0.They extended their lead with a try in the 39th minute from a turnover at the edge of Nadroga’s half with Kini Douglas, another standout for Naitasiri, initiating the attack, but he was brought down just in time. However, Naitasiri maintained possession, orchestrating a series of quality passes involving Naqiri, Rokotuisawa, and Vosawale, before finding Vilimoni Seru who sprinted clear to score the match’s first try. Unfortunately, Rokotuisawa missed the conversion, marking his first miss after having successfully slotted three earlier kicks from penalties awarded to them.
In the second half, Nadroga came back strong, capitalising on Naitasiri’s tight head prop receiving a red card for a dangerous tackle. Jack Volavola’s penalty goals narrowed the gap to 14-3, but Nadroga’s attempts to take control were thwarted by Naitasiri’s relentless defense.With an extra man advantage, Nadroga continued to press forward, but they found it challenging to capitalise on their opportunities. However, Andrew Tuitai’s impressive try in the corner brought them back into contention, reducing the deficit to 17-10.Volavola added another penalty goal in the 71st minute, but Naitasiri maintained their lead at 17-13. However, the game took a turn when Nadroga’s Michael Naitokani received a yellow card, which meant the two sides played out the remainder of the match with 14 players-a-side.
Bouyant by the turn of events and the realisation that they survived what was some nerve-wrecking 30 minutes of playing with a man down, a confident Naitasiri took the game and kept it in Nadroga’s half. They continued to pile the pressure on Nadroga to earn a penalty in the final minute of play after a Nadroga player was caught offside. Rokotuisawa stepped up to seal the win with his fifth successful penalty at the buzzer.
Meanwhile for Nadroga, the loss was their second in the competition following their defeat to Suva 17-35 in round one. They had won over Namosi (Rnd 2 – 26-10) and Tailevu (Rnd 3 – 24-18)