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Rugby League World Cup: England Beat Tonga 20-18 Set Up Final With Australia
England reached a first world cup final since 1995 as they survived a late Tonga fightback in Auckland to set up a meeting with holders Australia.
Wayne Bennett’s side were leading 20-0 with seven minutes remaining after tries from Jermaine McGillvary, Gareth Widdop and John Bateman.
But Tevita Pangai junior, Siliva Havili and Tuimoala Lolehea crashed over at a sold out Mount Smart Stadium.
And Andrew Fifita had a try ruled out in the final seconds of the match.
Referee Matt Cecchin ruled that the prop had earlier lost the ball – and to the ire of the Tongans did not refer it to the video referee.
It was an absolutely pulsating, never shredding end to a match played in front of a passionate crowed who heavily favored Tonga.
England will face the Kangaroos, who thrashed fiji 54-6 in the other semi-final, in the final in Brisbane next Saturday, 2 December.
England’s last appearance in the final came 22 years ago with Denis Betts, now among the coaching staff, captaining the the side in a 16-8 defeat by Australia at Wembley.
Every tournament since has ended in a semi final defeat, each one by New Zealand, but it looked with seven minutes to go as though England were cruising in to next Saturday’s showpiece.
At 20-0 down, Tonga had other ideas.
The pacific Islanders came from 16-2 down to beat New Zealand in the group stage and, backed by a vocal Tongan support in Auckland, almost engineered a come back of even graters proportions.
First, after 23 minutes, junior edged his way over the England line to across for a try that was eventually confirmed by the video referee but it looked like nothing more than a well deserved consolation.
But the nerves began to kick in for Bennett’s side as Tonga kept the ball alive before Havili broke through several would be tacklers to make the score 20-12.
Two minutes later and England’s advantage was reduce to two points, Lolohea again breaching England’s line to put Tonga within one score of their first world cup final.
England were in disarray and the crowed were absolutely roaring on Tonga.
McGillvary, one of England’s best performer at this world cup, stole a key intercept to win the ball back with England just needing to see out the final 90 seconds, but the winger lost the ball in a tackle to give Tonga one last attack.
And when Fifita found a route through it looked like England’s tournament was yet again going to end in semi-final heartbreak.
Australia referee Cecchin deemed it as a loose carry from the Tonga prop, opting not to consult the video referee, and that was enough for England to hold on a reach a first final in 22 years.
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