Wales will be looking to build on last weekend’s emphatic victory over Argentina when they host Tonga at the Millennium stadium. That win was Wales’ first in an autumn international since 2009, but they face a tough challenge this Friday, as they are set to face a Tongan outfit infamous for their brutality.
The south sea islanders have never beaten Wales and on their last visit to Cardiff in 2001, they were thrashed 51-7. But they have a good opportunity to register their first win over the Welsh, as Warren Gatland has named a second-string side, having made 11 changes, ahead of his 100th international Test as coach.
This promises to be a thrillingly violent encounter, between a hugely physical Welsh side and a Tongan team whose volatile reputation precedes them. Tonga have received five cards in their last seven Tests, two of which were red. This record clearly concerns the Welsh, with Shaun Edwards making the unusual move to ask referee Mike Fraser protect the Welsh players.
Gatland clearly has one eye on the Test against Australia on the 30th of November, as he has made significant changes to the side that demolished Argentina last weekend.
Ryan Jones will captain the side for the 33rd time. He joins Justin Tipuric and Andrew Coombs in the back row. Alun-Wyn Jones and Bradley Davies make way for Luke Charteris and Ian Evans in the engine room. Bath prop Paul James replaces Gethin Jenkins and Ken Owens takes over from Richard Hibbard. They will pack down along side Rhodri Jones, who keeps his spot after an impressive display against Argentina.
Leigh Halfpenny and George North are the only players to retain their place in the back line. Hallam Amos will make his debut on the wing as he has been called up to complete the back three. After losing two more centres to injury in last week’s victory, Ashely Beck and Owen Willams have been brought into the midfield. The versatile James Hook is set to win his 73rd cap as he replaces Dan Biggar at fly half. He will be joined by Lloyd Williams, who will take over at scrum half.
After such a large reshuffle, it is tough to see how they will retain the ferocious intensity that they decimated Argentina with. But these changes do not leave Wales short of experience. Veteran flanker Jones leads a pack that shares 317 Test caps.
Tonga have made four changes to the side that were beaten by France, ahead of their trip to the Millennium stadium. In an ill-tempered encounter with Les Blues, prop Sona Taumalolo was red carded for punching Yoaan Maestri. He is now serving a four-match ban and will be replaced by Eddie Aholelei. He will be joined by tight head Sila Puafisi who takes over from Tevita Mailau.
Nili Langilangi will captian the side, and he is joined by Viliami Ma’afu in the back row. Ma’afu will start at eight as he replaces Opeti Fonua. Fangatapu Apikotoa has been dropped to the bench to make way for Latiume Fosita, who will start at fly half. He will be joined by scrum half Taniela Moa, who retains his spot despite receiving a costly yellow card in last weekend’s defeat for elbowing Dimitri Szarzewski in the face.
The islanders are renowned for their physicality and they will relish the opportunity to go toe to toe with the aggressive Welsh pack and if they can keep their discipline and stay out of the referee’s book, they are more than capable of rattling the hosts.
All eyes on
James Hook will make his first start for Wales since playing against the Barbarians in 2012. The Perpignan star was given little time to impress in Wales’ last two Tests, but he will certainly get the Welsh back-line moving against a Tonga side that struggles to keep their defensive structure. His quick feet and acceleration will help him through the gaps in the visiting defence and his kicking game should provide Wales with another attacking dimension.
Siale Pitutau is arguably Tonga’s most tenacious defender. The centre is renowned for his huge hits and he will be out to crack some Welsh ribs. He is also a major threat with ball in hand. Pitutau carved through the French defence with ease last weekend. His clever lines and aggressive running style make him a nightmare to defend and his deft offloading abilities always attract Tongan support runners.
Head to head: Hallam Amos v Fetu’u Vainikolo
19-year-old debutant Hallam Amos will be entrusted with the difficult task of marking Fetu’u Moana Vainikolo. The Exeter winger is in fine form, as he proved last week, when he scored twice against the French, adding to the two tries he scored against Romainia in the opening game of their tour. He is a clinical finisher with predatory instincts, who has the potential to devastate the Welsh defence. But what his opposite man lacks in experience, he makes up for in skill. The Newport Gwent Dragon is a large and powerful runner who is very tough to stop once he gets into his stride. Amos is a solid defender and a confident tackler but he will have to be at his best to cage Vainikolo.
Tonga will see this match as theirs for the taking. Despite losing, they will have taken plenty of heart from their gutsy performance against France. They will certainly cause this new-look Welsh side some problems and they will throw everything they have at the hosts. But Wales have enough experience and class to pull through and ultimately, their structure and organisation will give them the edge over this raw Tongan outfit. Ryan Jones has a calming effect on the Welsh when he takes charge and under his leadership, Wales will not allow themselves to be rattled by the ferociousness of the Tongans. Wales by 7.
By Nathan Hyde (@NathanHyde2)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images