With the Rugby World Cup now just 30 days away, here on The Rugby Blog we will be publishing Team Previews for each side competing in this year’s tournament. From each team’s track record through to which player to look out for, here is all you need to know. First up, Tonga:
Rugby World Cup Pedigree:
Tonga are inevitably coming into this year’s World Cup with a bulky squad full of the type of fire power and speed which is now synonymous with the Pacific Islands. Although the side haven’t got as much experience in big club competitions like neighbours Fiji and Samoa, many have played in crux matches, with a handful having played in the Super 15 and Heineken Cup. They’ll be turning to those players for leadership while hopefully some of the younger names can install further passion into the side.
Tonga have been present at every World Cup since 1987 bar the 1991 edition, becoming stalwarts in the tournament. Their first two tournaments in 1987 and 1995 were a bit of a disappointment for the side as they picked up just one win over Ivory Coast. However, their luck turned in 1999 as they sealed a win over Italy, who had just joined the expanded Six Nations. But 2007 was almost certainly their best outing in the tournament. They sealed a narrow win over rivals Samoa, saw off USA and memorably pushed eventual World Champions South Africa to the brink in a thrilling final pool match as they finished third to automatically qualify for this year’s tournament. Of course, they helped create another classic World Cup moment in 2003, famously facing up to the All Blacks Haka with their Kailao much to the crowds delight.
Best Rugby World Cup moment:
Tonga have often fared well at the World Cup despite just four wins but it is one of their losses which is arguably one of their best moments. They pushed South Africa to the brink four years ago, constantly fighting back from behind to almost cause the upset of the tournament. The win also saw them finish third in the pool to qualify outright for this year’s tournament.
Biggest Rugby World Cup win: 29-11 v Ivory Coast (June 3, 1995)
Biggest Rugby World Cup defeat: 101-10 v England (October 15, 1999)
Northampton favourite Soane Tonga’uiha has been on fine form for his club this season. If he can translate those performances from the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup to the World Cup he will be a force to be reckoned with. He has a solid work rate and represents the rampaging, strong running type of prop who can cause havoc across the pitch.
One to watch:
Cooper Vuna has been turning heads for the Melbourne Rebels all season following his switch from Rugby League and, if he travels to New Zealand, he could really make his mark on this tournament. He has great pace and at 24 years old could be causing problems for defenders for years to come.
Rugby World Cup Fixtures:
v New Zealand (September 9, 20:30)
v Canada (September 14, 17:00)
v Japan (September 21, 19:30)
v France (October 1, 18:00)
Tonga will be hoping to seal wins over both Canada and Japan so their final match against France could see them fighting for a spot in the quarterfinals for the first time in their history. France will be coming off the back of a match against favourites New Zealand so a lot depends on that. Either way, a lot of it depends on which French team actually shows up. An upset could well be on the cards.
Odds: More than outsiders at 1000/1.
Tonga coach Isitolo Maka (speaking to Rugby World) says:
“We want to make the quarter-finals of the World Cup. To do that we’ve got to win three games. We need to front up against Canada and Japan because if we do, it’s likely we’ll play France in our last game to decide who qualifies.”
Tonga captain Samiu Vahafolau says:
“We need to get up quicker and take our opportunity at the break downs,” he said during the Pacific Nations Cup
Tonga do have a narrow chance of making the quarter-finals but a lot on rides on their first three games. They are unlikely to give the All Blacks any issues in the opening match of the tournament but from there they need to build momentum towards the clash with France. However, it seems like it could be a World Cup too far for the side and France are unlikely to come unstuck.
Position: Pool stages
by Nick Winn