Rugby World Cup 2023 is rapidly approaching, with just under two weeks until the opening game. Rugby.com.au examines every team’s chances in France, looking at Tonga.
Tonga are one of the biggest benefactors out of the change in World Rugby eligibility laws and will look to make full advantage of it in 2023.
Toutai Kefu has built an impressive roster filled with World Cup experience in a quest to advance past the group stages for the first time.
They find themselves in a brutal group, although have the quality to match it with the best on their day.
How they qualified
Qualified as ‘Asia/Pacific 1’ after defeating Hong Kong 44-22 in the Asia/Pacific Playoff
Tonga have built gradually into this year’s World Cup as they integrate a plethora of new talent.
2022 finished perfectly for the side with wins over Spain, Chile and Uruguay.
A dominant win over Australia A had them primed for a big Pacific Nations Cup campaign, only to go winless.
Two wins over Canada have them entering the event with confidence.
Former Australia fullback Israel Folau missed out on Tonga’s Rugby World Cup squad while former Wallabies teammate Adam Coleman was picked even though he’s yet to play for Tonga.
Tonga included five former New Zealand players: Malakai Fekitoa, who won the 2015 World Cup with the All Blacks, Charles Piutau, Augustine Pulu, Vaea Fifita and George Moala.
Moala was chosen even though he’s due to miss the first two World Cup games because of a five-game suspension that he is appealing.
Backs: Pita Ahki, Malakai Fekitoa, William Havili, Fine Inisi, Solomone Kata, Otumaka Mausia, George Moala, Manu Paea, Charles Piutau, Augustine Pulu, Sonatane Takulua (capt), Kyren Taumoefolau, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Anzelo Tuitavuki.
Forwards: Sosefo ‘Apikotoa, Adam Coleman, Vaea Fifita, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, Feao Fotuaika, Solomone Funaki, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Sione Havili Talitui, Tau Kolomatangi, Paula Latu, Samiuela Lousi, Sitiveni Mafi, Siua Maile, Samiuela Moli, Paula Ngauamo, Semisi Paea, Ben Tameifuna, Sione Vailanu.
Salesi ‘Charles’ Piutau is one of the key additions to this Tongan side after making the move overseas early in his career.
It’s been an inspired decision, establishing himself as a star of the English Premiership and one of the richest men in World Rugby with Bristol.
The 31-year-old has earned that tag and brings that game-breaking ability to the national side who are missing that explosive edge with no Israel Folau.
Breakthrough Player to Watch
Sione Havili Talitui can position himself as one of the faces of Pacific Rugby with a strong tournament.
Talitui debuted for Tonga at the end of 2022 after years of consistent performances for the Crusaders.
Heading to Moana Pasifika in 2024, the 25-year-old could become the face of the franchise and a beacon for Pacific Islander talent if he can raise his stocks at this World Cup.
World Cup history
Best Finish: Group Stages (eight times)
Last Five World Cups
2019: Group Stages
2015: Group Stages
2011: Group Stages
2007: Group Stages
2003: Group Stages
1999: Group Stages
Game to watch: Ireland
It’s a game that Tonga coach Kefu has publicly said they are targeting as a game to win, which would send a major message of intent early in the tournament.
Tonga has the luxury of being the last team to start their Rugby World Cup campaign, with the likes of France and Chile already playing twice before the Tongans would’ve taken the field in Nantes.
It’ll mean they’ll have longer time to prepare for the Irish, who must first deal with Romania, whilst ensuring they will be completely fresh for the crucial game.
Sun Sep 17 (5:00 AM): Ireland v Tonga, Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes
Mon Sep 25 (1:45 AM): Scotland v Tonga, Stade de Nice, Nice
Mon Oct 2 (6:00 AM): South Africa v Tonga, Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Mon Oct 9 (2:45 AM): Tonga v Romania, Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille