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Tonga aiming for top three pool spot

Wednesday 30 September 2015 | Published in Regional


EXETER – Tonga’s hopes of taking a top-three spot in Pool C will be tested by an in-form Argentina in Leicester on Sunday, but the Pacific islanders believe they can achieve automatic qualification for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

Having been beaten by Georgia in their opening match, the Ikale Tahi – Sea Eagles – had 10 days to lick their wounds before overcoming a spirited Namibia at Sandy Park, Exeter, yesterday.

The Pacific islanders’ 35-21 win at Sandy Park made up for some of the hurt they had suffered in that opening match defeat.

Head coach Mana Otai said they had three performance goals heading into the game – to win, to take maximum points – and a third which he refused to reveal.

Having scored five tries to take five points from the game, he smiled: “We’ll take the first two.”

He also referred to five tries he believed his side had left out on the field, which indicates Otai will be looking to improve his side’s execution.

Argentina, the 2007 bronze medallists, caught the eye in their opening pool match by offering serious resistance against the world champions, New Zealand.

Argentina are a formidable barrier but Tonga must beat them to retain any hope of making the knockout stages – and to claim that all-important third position in the pool which guarantees qualification for RWC 2019 in Japan.

Number eight Sione Kalamafoni admitted as much, saying: “Argentina will be a whole different ball game. Their scrum is one of the best in the world.”

With only a four-day turnaround before the crucial match against the Pumas, Tonga and their fans will be concerned about four players carrying injuries.

Wing Fetu’u Vainikolo was replaced before kick-off and Kalamafoni was taken off eight minutes before half-time, both precautionary according to Otai.

Co-captain Siale Piutau was substituted just before the hour, apparently with a cheek injury, while lock Hale T-Pole, one of the most experienced members of this squad, looked to be in serious discomfort having landed on his ankle from a lineout just after half-time.

Otai is adamant Tonga can still qualify for the quarter-finals, however. “After Georgia, we kept saying the dream is still alive. Gaining five points is another step towards that.”

While the focus is firmly forward, Tonga will take a night out to savour the victory over Namibia before re-focusing on the Pumas. “We’ll celebrate the victory tonight, have a few words and share some beverages and be back on the horse tomorrow.

“We played one final today and we’ll play another on Sunday. But as our coach would say, ‘recovery, recovery, recovery’.”

Fiji head coach John McKee has named his team to face Wales in the Pool A clash at Millennium Stadium tomorrow.

Fiji has made six changes to their starting XV for the match against Wales, mainly caused by injuries and suspensions. They will field their most experienced XV at a Rugby World Cup.

The 392 caps in the starting XV is one more than they fielded in their opening match against England.