Tonga Rugby World Cup performance tough to Predict

Tonga Rugby World Cup performance tough to Predict
Tonga's teammates talk together during the test union international match between Japan and Tonga, on November 18, 2017, at the Ernest Wallon Stadium in Toulouse, southwestern France. / AFP PHOTO / REMY GABALDA (Photo credit should read REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Tonga has always been a key part of the Rugby World Cup history. Jonathan Davies memorably said that Tonga was “the most unpleasant team he ever played against”. Famous for their immense size and incredibly tough-tackling, however, situated in Pool C the Tonga Rugby World Cup performance will be hard to predict.

Continuing, David Challis’ series looking at the potential fortunes of tier two nations. We have already looked at the fortunes of another Pacific Island Nation in the form of Fiji.

Can Tonga match up to their island neighbors when it comes to Japan in September?

Tonga Rugby World Cup History

Tonga has a real up and down record when it comes to World Cup performances. At their lowest, they were unable to pick up a win in 2003. In 2015 they also struggled when they defeated Namibia after a disappointing loss to an ever-improving Georgia.

However, in both 2007 and 2011, they won two games and were just one victory away from the quarter-finals. This makes predicting their fortunes in Japan difficult.

Greatest World Cup moment

The 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand was the culmination of efforts for Tonga. They begun with a spirited performance against the hosts but then backed it up with a disappointing loss to Canada.

However, this is when their fortunes changed. They defeated Japan comprehensively 31-18 including tries from Ma’afu and Vainikolo. Then came the big moment. Against eventual finalists France, they ground out an outstanding victory.

Four penalties from stalwart fly-half Morath and a try from flying winger Hufanga were enough to grab a famous win. This meant they only missed out on qualification by a couple of bonus points.

Tonga’s recent form – improved Performances in 2019

Tonga has struggled somewhat this year. They were only able to pick up one win in the Pacific Nations Cup and they only go on to face New Zealand as their final warm-up game. However, over the whole of this Rugby World Cup cycle, Tonga has been unpredictable. Just like their form in the tournaments themselves.

This is in part down to the relatively few number of Tests they play in comparison to other nations meaning that they struggle to gain continuity. The other main issue is the consistency of selection due to pressure from overseas clubs. In this year’s Tests Tonga has fielded 28 different starters. Hopefully by the time the Rugby Union World Cup rolls on they have their starting team figured out.

Three Players To Watch

Ben Tameifuna

Tameifuna is well known for his immense size and power. The prop is listed at 134kg and has been destructive for Racing 92 in the past few years.

He is the archetypal Tongan forward and will look to add to his ‘big hits’ highlight reel in September.

Cooper Vuna

Vuna has made a name for himself during his time at Worcester Warriors. He is a natural-born finisher who has a nose for the try line and should light up the field in the World Cup.

Sonatane Takalua

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Takalua brings to Tonga something that most tier two nations do not have. A really intelligent half back who can control proceedings. During this time at Newcastle Takalua has show he keeps his side in games when the momentum is against them which is something that Tonga will need in Japan.

Tonga’s chances in Pool C

Tonga has been dealt a rough pool draw. Games against England, Argentina and France are going to be a big ask. An upset is not completely off the cards but the focus for Tonga has to be on their game against the USA.

This matchup is going to be a real highlight of the World Cup. The USA is vastly improved over the last few years and Tonga will be going into that game with a lot on the line.

Going beyond the Rugby World Cup

There are a lot of issues that Tonga has to tackle going forward. Two of which we have already mentioned. If they can play more regularly and have more control over their players they should be able to improve sharply.

However, there is more to the situation than just this. A lot of national teams have players with Tongan heritage such as Sekope Kepu and the Vunipola brothers. This needs to be addressed if Tonga wants to reach their potential at future Rugby World Cups.

However, if Tonga can maximize their resources then we could see the Pacific Island side make a real impact at future tournaments.

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New Zealand v Tonga – Saturday, September 7. FMG Stadium, Waikato

Tonga will play in Pool C against England, Argentina, USA, and France in Japan. It will be hard to predict how they fare, but the pride that every Tonga Rugby World Cup side has taken into each tournament, is one Pacifica rugby fans can be guaranteed of.

 

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