Tiny Nauru made its Test debut in an 89-5 loss to Papua New Guinea on Friday, Zimbabwe got one hand on Africa’s Victoria Cup with a 32-26 win over Uganda and Mexico stunned Paraguay 35-27 in Colombia.
It was mostly one-way traffic in Port Moresby as the host nation kicked off its defence of the revived Oceania Cup, scything through the opposition almost at will. Right winger Wesley Vali finished with six tries as the Pukpuks appeared on course for a century.
Nauru were starved of possession and barely got out of their own half until the end of the game, when their beefy forwards drove across for the nation’s first-ever try. Though the commentators attributed it to Otto Adam, the Nauru Rugby Facebook page credited Myah Temaki. Regardless, it was a team effort, and the players duly celebrated as if they’d just won the World Cup.
Nauru can only build on this ahead of their next match, against the Solomon Islands on Tuesday. The Warriors were edged 19-17 by Niue in the early game, a little surprising given they had won the only two previous encounters between the teams. Niue, the smallest nation in the world after Vatican City, were playing their first Test since 2011. They will face Papua New Guinea in the likely decider this Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in Africa, Zimbabwe have one hand on the Victoria Cup after their fourth-straight win, 32-26 over Uganda in Harare on Saturday. The home side had the better of the forward exchanges, though the Cranes backline looked the more dangerous and broke away for a few tries. A series of penalties late in the game did not help the visitors’ cause and several of the players left the field without shaking their opponents’ hands afterwards. But it was poor handling which ultimately cost them.
Zimbabwe had won the away leg by a remarkably similar score, 31-26, and will now only need to account for winless debutants Zambia in their penultimate game on 14 September to clinch the title, as their closest rival, Kenya, has already dropped two games. The Simbas defeated Zambia 31-16 in Nairobi in the day’s other encounter, the visitors finishing the match with 14 men after centre Edward Mumba was sent off for a high tackle.
Elsewhere, Namibia defeated a Sharks invitational XV 43-0 in Durban in preparation for next week’s World Cup warm-ups with the Southern Kings in Windhoek and Walvis Bay. And Argentina’s Jaguares development XV downed Gauteng’s Valke 37-27 in the Currie Cup first division semis in Potchefstroom. They will face North Free State’s Griffons in the final but are not eligible for promotion this year.
The big surprise of the weekend came in Colombia on Sunday, where Mexico registered a 35-27 win over Paraguay in the Americas Challenge opener. Mexico led 22-14 at half-time, winger Fharid Semano dotting down twice. The South Americans looked more purposeful after the break and hit the lead with a penalty around the 60-minute mark. Los Serpientes had a try disallowed shortly afterwards but regained the lead with a late penalty before replacement Jorge Cortes clinched victory with a try on full-time.
In the late game hosts Colombia overwhelmed the Cayman Islands 83-6 after leading 31-6 at the break. Centre Jon Arley Uruttia stood out on attack while the forwards were increasingly dominant as the match wore on. Colombia will meet Mexico on Wednesday in the likely decider, while Paraguay takes on the Caymans.
Also at the weekend Irish province Leinster defeated Canada 38-35 with a last-minute try in Hamilton on Saturday after the North Americans had come from 0-19 down to lead 35-24 with ten minutes remaining. The visitors’ defence was resolute, while former Wallaby Joe Tomane caused problems for the hosts, hitting the line at pace. Canada’s attempt to wind down the clock through the forwards late in the match foundered on a fumble, and a pair of tacklers couldn’t hold down Hugo Keenan, who bounced back up and dived over for the winning try.
In two other World Cup warm-ups at the weekend Uruguay defeated a South American XV 24-20 in Montevideo and Tonga overcame the Western Force 19-15 in rainy Nuku’alofa. On Tuesday Georgia and Russia will take on South Africa’s Kings and Britain’s Jersey Reds respectively. The games were hastily arranged after Russia cancelled its World Cup warm-up with Georgia for political reasons, as reported in my previous global wrap.