Tonga World Cup Preparations Continue

TONGA WORLD CUP PREPARATIONS CONTINUE

Nottingham 14 Tonga 69

Tonga asserted their international credentials with a resounding win in their first Rugby World Cup warm-up game against Championship side Nottingham.

This margin of victory further supports the idea that Tier Two nations are being disadvantaged by the composition of international fixtures, as I have explored in previous articles. The result will have undoubtedly given the ‘Ikale Tahi a confidence boost and encouraged the head coach Mana Otai that their training and preparations are working. On the other hand supporters may wonder whether their team will be ready for much bigger challenges such as New Zealand and Argentina in their mission to reach the quarter finals.

The men in red were able to dominate the game from the start and scored their first try within the opening few minutes.  Having raced into a comfortable half-time lead the ‘Ikale Tahi will be pleased that they were able to continue piling on the points and not get complacent, even despite a yellow card for prop Soane Tonga’uiha.

For Nottingham the result of course is not ideal but no doubt they will be able to learn from the exposure to international rugby and build on this experience going into their Greene King IPA Championship campaign.

Romania 16 Tonga 21

The Pacific Islanders then travelled to Romania to face the eastern Europeans in what was clearly a dry run for their opening game against Georgia. The hosts may be the lowest ranked of all the major European teams but with Ireland, Italy and France all in Group D, Welsh head coach Lynn Howells has been working hard to ensure they can be competitive, particularly in the scrum.

Both sides unsurprisingly named strong line-ups, with the visitors naming six Aviva Premiership-based players in the starting XV.  Points were naturally not as forthcoming as against Nottingham but Tonga were able to get on top of the hosts due to their physicality which would have helped subdue the influence of the home crowd in the Arcul de Triumpf stadium.

Following this hard-fought test match, where in the end only the second Tonga try proved the difference, it has to be questioned whether the ‘dragging down’ effect influenced this scoreline. In other words, if Tonga had played a more competitive first game they would have been better prepared for the Romania game. It is difficult to say given how Romania are improving as a test nation, in light of another win earlier this year in the European Nations Cup. Nevertheless a full international game against a well-drilled outfit like Romania was a valuable step in the preparation process.

The Tongan squad was joined in Romania by the 31st team member, Newcastle Falcons’ lock Uili Kolo’ofa’i,  and they have now returned as a collective to England for their official welcoming ceremony at Cheltenham Town Hall, ahead of their first game just down the road in Gloucester. The real measure of their warm-up games’ effectiveness will come on the 19th September, when all long-term worries will be put aside as long as they can notch an opening game win.

 

 

(L to R) Joe Tu’ineau, Sione Kalamafoni and Vungakoto Lilo of Tonga during an International Friendly match at Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester. Photo credit: Scott Heavey/Getty Images.