Auckland (AP) – Winger Alex Cuthbert scored a try after having two disallowed to help under-strength Wales beat Tonga 24-6 in a one-off rugby test at Eden Park on Friday.
Cuthbert crossed the line in the third and sixth minutes but was called back on both occasions, picking up a shoulder injury in the second which eventually caused him to be replaced at halftime.
But he was finally rewarded for his sharp play on the right wing with a try in the 19th minute after being put into space by Wales’ New Zealand-born fullback Gareth Anscombe.
Wales were also awarded a penalty try in the final minute when Tonga collapsed a maul over their own goalline. It was a harsh call — the Wales ball carrier had knocked-on — and the 14-6 margin Wales held until the last five minutes would have been a reasonable reflection of the match.
Wales were without 12 players currently touring New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions and lost several more to injuries.
The young Welsh players, including eight on debut, were expected to throw themselves relentlessly into a test under the leadership for the first time of 94-test veteran Jamie Roberts. Instead, they lacked confidence to regularly challenge the Tonga defense and they depended for their win on Cuthbert’s try, the penalty try and four penalties from flyhalf Sam Davies.
“We’re reasonably happy,” Roberts said. “We had a bit of ball to play with. We created opportunities, which is good and we have something to build on now.
“We’re delighted with the attitude — obviously there are things to work on, but it’s pretty exciting.”
Wales defended stoutly, with the rushing style the Lions have already made familiar on tour. Their defense was generally sound, though winger Cooper Vuna and scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua made dangerous breaks for Tonga in the second half.
But the Welsh lacked attacking flair. Apart from a couple of strong hit-ups from Roberts and moments of flair from Anscombe and Cuthbert, Wales did very little to stretch the defense of a Tonga team which had only five days to prepare for this match.
Cuthbert was dangerous at times, going close to scoring when Wales spread the ball to his right wing in the third minute before being driven into touch in the tackle of prop Latu Talakai.
He went close again from a crosskick by Anscombe three minutes but failed to ground the ball behind the line.
Cuthbert finally made good when Anscombe ran back a poor kick from Latiume Fosita, drew in the defense and passed to the winger who kicked ahead and regathered.
“We probably made a few too many errors which let us down and gave away a few too many penalties,” Tonga captain Siale Piutau said. “But it’s something to build on. We’ve got a young squad and we look forward to our next test.”