Although rugby is the national sport of Tonga, their tiny base of players means they struggle to compete on the international stage. The IRB estimates that Tonga has in the region of 800 registered players, compared to some 716,000 in England.
Nevertheless, Tonga has competed at four Rugby World Cups, and the brutal power and pace will have Pool A rivals taking notice. Realistically, the Tongans do not pose a threat to England and South Africa, but they will offer a physical challenge not to be taken lightly.
Coach Quddus Fielea has named an experience squad for their World Cup campaign, which begins against USA on September 12th. Second row Inoke Afeaki will appear in his third World Cup, whilst Ephraim Taukafa, Viliami Vaki, Pierre Hola, Tevita Tu’ifua and Sukanaivalu Hufanga also featured in 2003.
Their preparations have gone well, having beaten Auckland B last week, and then defeating Edinburgh at the weekend. Vungakato Lilo impressed with two tries against Auckland, whilst forward Hale T-Pole scored one himself and looks a certainty to scoop the ‘Best name at the World Cup’ prize.
The Pacific Islanders will be targeting the USA game for a victory in France, and have been helped by the schedule organisers – USA will have had a tough game just four days previously against England. However, Samoa and the big two in that group should prove to be a test too far.
Watch this video below from the 2003 World Cup that saw the battle of the Hakas.