WELLINGTON: Samoa ran in five second-half tries to beat Tonga 42-13 in a World Cup qualifying playoff in Auckland on Saturday, taking a healthy lead into next week's return leg in Hamilton.
Centre Henry Taefu scored the final try and contributed 15 points from the kicking tee as the Samoans put themselves in the driving seat for a place in Pool D at the 2023 World Cup along with England, Japan, Argentina and an Americas qualifier.
Tonga, who were backing up from a 102-0 drubbing at the hands of the All Blacks last week but only trailed 6-3 at halftime, still have a path to France even if they cannot overturn the deficit next Saturday.
The losers of the playoff will face Cook Islands in Pukekohe, New Zealand on July 24 for the right to play the Asian champions - Hong Kong, South Korea or Malaysia - for a spot in Pool B at the World Cup.
Samoa have competed at every World Cup since the 1991 edition, twice reaching the quarter-finals, while Tonga only missed the 1991 tournament.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by William Mallard)