COOK Islands withstood a brave Wales to register an 18-12 win in their first World Cup game.
Wales started like a house on fire as Josh Ralph’s kick through was caught by Rhodri Lloyd for the first points of the game in the 13th minute. Matty Fozard’s conversion made it 6-0.
The Cook Islands almost levelled proceedings moments later when Tepai Moeroa went close, but the forward knocked on over the line.
Finally, the Kukis did register their first of the night as Esan Marsters broke through in midfield before feeding Anthony Gelling who cantered over under the posts. Steven Marsters converted to make it 6-6.
Oliver Olds restored Wales’ six-point lead with a fine solo score as Fozard converted, but the Kukis almost scored again before the break before referee Robert Hicks handed the Cook Islands a penalty on the hooter for offside.
Steven Marsters stepped up to convert as Wales led 12-8 at half-time.
It was a fast and frenetic start to the second forty minutes and the Kukis nearly had another just after the resumption following a kick to Steven Marsters, but Brad Takairangi knocked on in the act of trying to score.
A magnificent effort from Davvy Moale brought the Cook Islands level just before the hour mark, with Steven Marsters converting to send his side into the lead at 14-12.
More brilliance from Steven Marsters, as he climbed highest to a pinpoint kick and planted – one-handed – the ball on the whitewash, extended the Kukis’ lead to six, with the winger missing the conversion from out wide.
By now, the Kukis were purring but they wasted another opportunity after Takairangi’s incorrect play-the-ball stopped Rua Ngatikaura from diving over.
That left the Welsh with an added incentive to somehow claw their way back into the game, but stern Cook Islands defence coupled with errors from themselves left Wales staring down the barrel of a narrow defeat.
Caleb Aekins, Mike Butt, Will Evans, Elliott Kear (C), Rhys Williams, Oliver Olds, Josh Ralph, Ant Walker, Matty Fozard, Dan Fleming, Rhodri Lloyd, Bailey Antrobus, Joe Burke. Subs (all used): Chester Butler, Ben Evans, Curtis Davies, Connor Davies.
Tries: Lloyd, Olds
Goals: Fozard 2/2
Kayal Iro, Steven Marsters, Anthony Gelling, Reubenn Rennie, Paul Ulberg, Esan Marsters (C), Johnathon Ford, Pride Peterson-Robati, Aaron Teroi, Tepai Moeroa, Dominique Peyroux, Ruben Porter, Zane Tetevano. Subs (all used): Makahesi Makatoa, Davvy Moale, Rua Ngatikaura, Brad Takairangi
Tries: Gelling, Moale, S Marsters
Goals: S Marsters 3/4
Referee: Robert Hicks