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Do or die as Tonga takes on the All Blacks

Friday 9 October 2015 | Published in Regional


NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE – It’s official – Tonga need to either beat the All Blacks today or draw with a bonus point to qualify directly for the 2019 World Cup.

Georgia recovered from a 6-0 deficit to beat Nambia 17-16 in Exeter this morning to leapfrog Tonga’s ‘Ikale Tahi in the Pool C standings – the top three in each group earning direct qualification to the 2019 event in Japan.

Namibia scored their only try five minutes from full-time to give themselves and Tongan fans brief hope for an upset, but the Georgians held on for the win.

An unlikely win against the All Blacks would lift Tonga back into third place, earning them direct qualification in 2019.

There is even a remote mathematical hope of Tonga finishing second in the pool if coach Mana Otai’s team win with a bonus point and Argentina pick up nothing against Namibia.

Tonga would draw level with Georgia on eight points if they score four tries and lose within seven points but would still miss out because they lost when the teams clashed in the opening round.

It’s been a disappointing RWC all round for the Pacific neighbours nations, which means at least one is at risk of failing to qualify for the 2019 World Cup.

Fiji finished fourth in cut-throat Pool A, after losses to England, Australia and Wales.

Meanwhile Samoa are fourth in Pool B and need to beat Scotland with a bonus point and hope Japan get nothing against the United States to finish third.

If the Pacific countries fail to qualify automatically, they will have to go through a repechage tournament, with no guarantee there will be space for all three.

Samoa coach Stephen Betham says it’s proof the gap is closing in the international game.

“It’s a pity that Pacific islanders have fallen back but in looking at it I think the rest of the world have caught up and rugby is almost equal across the board and you let your guard down and you’ll pay the price”.

Fiji are the top-ranked Pacific country at tenth in the world.

Tonga climbed one spot to 12th this week, while Samoa’s defeat to Japan saw them plummet four places to 15th.

Tonga’s coach ‘Otai denies suggestions that England RWC 2015 represents the end of an era for Tongan rugby.

He believes his senior players feel a duty greater than victory or defeat on the pitch.

“We are only just starting to scratch the surface. This is just the beginning of an era, not the end,” ‘Otai said.

“We have a group that’s not about just themselves, but wanting to inspire our youngsters to come and play for their country. Good things take their time, so for us it is continuation more than the end or beginning of an era.

“If we can show to our people that they can take pride in representing their country through rugby that can keep them from the wrong side of the tracks.”

There is another challenge for the small island nation, population 109,000 – the temptation of becoming an All Black star, or demand for their services from clubs in France, England, Wales and Japan, is often too great for Tonga’s young talent to resist, and many end up playing for other countries under residency rules.

The spread of the Tongan rugby diaspora means that 12 of their 31-strong squad at the start of the tournament were born outside the Polynesian kingdom.

Vice-captain Siale Piutau points to players such as Malakai Fekitoa for New Zealand, Taulupe Falatau for Wales, Japan’s Amanaki Mafi and Mate Moeakiola for USA who have Tongan heritage or were born in the country but play under other national flags.

“One of our goals was to leave a legacy behind and tomorrow, if we do well, if we get that win, we can inspire a lot of young Tongans growing up,” Piutau said.