THE RED DAR­LINGS

NZ Rugby World Tournament Guide - - CON­TENTS -

Tonga are quite of­ten the dar­ling of the tour­na­ment and would love to be so again.

Tonga have a good re­cent World Cup pedi­gree where they have over­achieved and won the re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion of neu­tral ob­servers. They hope to do so again says GRE­GOR PAUL.

THEY AR­RIVE IN ENG­LAND AS..?

A team the neu­tral will be root­ing for. Tonga were the dar­lings of the 2007 tour­na­ment and to a lesser ex­tent, the 2011 World Cup. In 2007 they rat­tled Eng­land and came sur­pris­ingly close to beat­ing South Africa. Last time round they beat France and they beat them well.

That’s the thing with Tonga, World Cups are one of the few oc­ca­sions they are as­sem­bled for any mean­ing­ful pe­riod and time to­gether al­lows them to utilise their nat­u­ral tal­ents and con­sid­er­able rugby prow­ess. They are, pos­si­bly, an out­side bet to make the last eight but it’s too hard to see. They would have to beat the Pu­mas – which is un­likely. They will also have to beat Ge­or­gia which might in fact be de­cid­edly dif­fi­cult.

WHAT TYPE OF FOOT­BALL WILL THEY PLAY?

High im­pact. The Ton­gan men­tal­ity is to hit hard in the tackle and use ag­gres­sive de­fence to un­set­tle op­po­nents. They will be happy enough to grind up the mid­dle with pick and go and prob­a­bly kick more than the other two Pa­cific Is­land sides.

ARE THEY SUIT­ABLY MO­TI­VATED?

Tonga have been good at the last two World Cups and some of that is be­cause they know the big­gest stage is the best place to play well as it gets them no­ticed. If they are to win what they want – more fix­tures and more fix­tures against bet­ter op­po­si­tion – then they have to im­press at the World Cup.

That’s the way to get no­ticed. It worked for Ar­gentina. They made the semi­fi­nals in 2007 at a time when nei­ther the Six Na­tions nor Tri Na­tions wanted to in­clude them. After that World Cup, ev­ery­thing changed. The Pu­mas had fin­ished higher than both the All Blacks and Wal­la­bies...

Tonga would like to ex­ert the same pres­sure to be in­cluded.

DO THEY HAVE ENOUGH PER­SON­NEL DEPTH?

They would like more, put it that way. They have a hand­ful of durable, rugged for­wards such as Sona Tau­malolo, Joe Tuineau and Te­vita Mailau and some good out­side backs in Siale Pi­u­tau and Fetu’u Vainikolo. Taniela Moa can be bril­liant at half­back when he’s fit and wasn’t that far away from be­ing an All Black at one stage. But like quite a few teams, their prob­lem is at No 10 where they don’t have a recog­nised, es­tab­lished world star.

CAN THEY COPE WITH THE PRES­SURE?

Tonga have some his­tory of be­ing gi­ant killers. They beat Scot­land in Aberdeen in 2012 [is that gi­ant killing?] and of course de­feated France in Welling­ton at the last World Cup. That vic­tory was per­haps the most telling of the Ton­gan mind set. They strug­gled at first to be­lieve they were

dom­i­nat­ing: it was as if they were wait­ing for the real France to turn up be­cause they couldn’t be­lieve it was so easy for them to win the ball and keep it.

But as the game de­vel­oped, the Ton­gans grew in con­fi­dence and re­alised they were dom­i­nat­ing be­cause they were bet­ter. In the last five min­utes, they even goaded the French – de­mand­ing they for­feit penal­ties for scrums such was the con­fi­dence in the Ton­gan set-piece. Bot­tom line – give Tonga a sniff and they will be dan­ger­ous.

WHERE ARE THEIR WEAK­NESSES?

Bit like Samoa and Fiji, they have to worry about the off field stuff. Will the kit turn up, will there be wa­ter at train­ing, will they be paid...etc. Their big­ger weak­ness is that they may strug­gle to play the game at pace. Their pack is big and pow­er­ful but not par­tic­u­larly mo­bile. They also have a num­ber of vet­eran per­form­ers who might strug­gle to play four fast games in four weeks. When Tonga played Scot­land in Novem­ber last year, they were in the con­test for 65 min­utes but wilted in the last 15 and en­abled Scot­land to en­joy space and time out wide.

WHAT ARE THEIR KEY STRENGTHS?

There will be con­sid­er­able pride in the jer­sey and col­lec­tive de­sire to har­ness. They have a good set-piece and plenty of abil­ity around the tack­led ball. Nili Latu is a bril­liant open­side who will scrap for ev­ery­thing and Tau­malolo will find a way to bur­row over from close range ei­ther from rucks or driv­ing mauls. That ex­plo­sive power in the ball carry and tackle is a gen­uine weapon that fright­ens plenty of teams.

WHAT PO­TEN­TIAL PROB­LEMS COULD THEY IN­CUR?

Play­ers fall­ing out with man­age­ment has been an is­sue in the past and un­like Samoa, not much has been done to fix the un­der­ly­ing is­sues in Tonga.

SAME AGAIN: Tonga played well against the All Blacks in 2011.

Above BIG PUNCH: Tonga will hit the fringes

with force

Above Right NO PROB­LEM: Tonga will win their ball

at set piece

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