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Rugby World Cup 2023 Team Preview - Tonga

Rugby World Cup 2023 Team Preview - Tonga - Absolute Rugby

Matthew Buckland |

With the Rugby World Cup quickly approaching, it seems like a pretty good time to take a look at the teams involved in the tournament. Today we’re going to have a look at Tonga and see how they are going to fare this year.

How are Tonga coming into the tournament?

Tongan rugby has gone through quite a few changes over the last few years. One of the things which has been consistent is the team’s head coach. Toutai Kefu is going into his second Rugby World Cup as the head coach of the Tongan team and he has a lot of talent to choose from.

Tonga have benefitted from World Rugby changing their eligibility regulations to allow players to change their international teams if they have not played international rugby in three years. It means this Tongan side have added a huge amount of talent in the last 18 months.

Former Wallabies Adam Coleman, Lopeti Timani and Israel Folau have all joined the squad. They are complimented by former All Blacks Charles Piutau, Vaea Fifita and Augustine Pulu who have recently joined the Tongan squad.

Despite that talent, Tonga have not yet been able to put the results they want onto the pitch. They do have four wins from their last seven games, but have failed to win a game in the last two Pacific Nations Cups. They have come close to some impressive results in that time.

So it is a very good Tongan team, but they are yet to really put out the results on the pitch.

Tonga’s XV for the tournament

As there is a huge amount of new talent coming into this Tongan team, there are some very difficult selections to be made. Their forwards pack is very strong, but the front row is not easy to pick. Kefu has been rotating between Siua Maile and Sam Moli as the first choice option at Hooker, but could even go for Castres Hooker Paul Ngauamo if he is looking for more experience.

With four excellent choices at lock, it is difficult to pick who will start. Steve Mafi would be unlucky to lose out on his starting spot, but Adam Coleman and Leva Fifita are too good not to start. The back row is similarly difficult to pick. Watch out for Sione Vailanu to be a surprise starter for this side.

9 and 10 are pretty simple positions to pick, but there is a huge amount of talent in the backs group which makes things difficult to pick. It seems most likely that Toulouse star Pita Ahki will start at 12 and new Benetton signing Malakai Fekitoa will start at 13.

The back three is slightly more difficult to pick, mainly down to the extremely controversial figure that is Israel Folau. His homophobic comments led to the end of his Australian Rugby career, but Folau has returned to international rugby with Tonga in 2022.

It seems likely that Charles Piutau is pretty set as the team’s starting fullback, so Folau could find himself on the wing if head coach Toutai Kefu is desperate to get him into the team. 

1.Siegfried Fisi’ihoi-Pau

2.Siua Maile-Benetton

3.Ben Tameifuna-Bordeaux Begles

4.Adam Coleman-London Irish

5.Leva Fifita-Connacht

6.Vaea Fifita-Scarlets

7.Sione Havili Talitui-Crusaders

8.Lopeti Timani-Cardiff

9.Sonatane Takulua-Agen

10.William Havili-Moana Pasifika

11.Fini Inisi-Moana Pasifika

12.Pita Ahki-Toulouse

13.Malakai Fekitoa-Benetton

14.Solomone Kata-Exeter Chiefs

15.Charles Piutau-Bristol Bears

Who to watch out for in this Tongan team

In the forwards pack there is a huge amount of talent, as well as huge amount of physicality. If he get’s the chance, then Sione Vailanu will run someone over whenever possible. Their experienced props are also going to solidify Tonga’s scrum and it could be very difficult for other team’s to get past.

But when you look at this Tongan team it is a lot of fun to talk about their backs. 24 year old William Havili is going to have a big job this tournament because he needs to get all the talent he has outside of him involved if Tonga want to impress.

Pita Ahki is particularly exciting. Ahki has been the underrated star of Toulouse over the last few years and I think he is certainly a player to watch. I expect some big highlight moments from player’s like Charles Piutau, Solomone Kata and Malakai Fekitoa at this tournament.

What are Tonga’s chances at this tournament?

Similarly to quite a few other team’s, Tonga have not been blessed with an easy draw. They are in Pool B for the tournament, meaning that they will face the number 1,3 and 5 team’s in the world.

That means this team are going to be facing three team’s who are incredibly competitive. South Africa and Ireland in particular will be targeting a Rugby World Cup Final victory, with Scotland hoping to cause an upset at this tournament.

Tonga have only one win against any of those teams, having beaten Scotland once. That is definitely a bad sign for this team and it makes the tournament seem like a very big hill for this side to climb. There is one thing which is certainly helping Tonga’s chances and that is that they have players who play against the top teams in the world every week.

This Tongan team has world class players who are playing in top leagues around the world. It is very likely that the Tongan team which starts the tournament could feature players from the Top 14, Super Rugby, URC and Premiership Rugby. So they will know a lot about the team’s which they are coming up against.

But it just seems like way too much for this Tongan team to handle. Not only do they have to face three of the top five team’s in the world, but they have to face them in a three week period. This is incredibly testing on the physical attributes of this team and I think it is just going to be too much for Tonga to overcome.

Prediction of Tonga’s Rugby World Cup Performance: Pool Stage exit

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