Preview: Tonga v USA

Date published: November 14 2014

Tonga and the USA will face off in Gloucester with both teams coming into the game on the back of morale-boosting wins.

Tonga and the USA will face off in Gloucester with both teams coming into the game on the back of morale-boosting wins.

Tonga put an end to a six-game, year-long losing streak with a 23-9 win over Georgia, while the Eagles impressed with a 27-17 win in Romania.

While the USA were dominant throughout in Bucharest, Tonga had a much tougher time of it against Georgia, only taking the lead in the final quarter before stretching away with two tries from Taniela Moa late on.

It was a nice start for new assistant coach Jake White, who has started working with the squad after leaving the Sharks earlier this year, especially against a Georgian side which they will face in the pool stages of next year’s World Cup.

For their part, the USA looked to have gained a lot from their historic clash with the All Blacks as they breezed past Romania in Bucharest, but they will take on Tonga with a slightly unfamiliar look to their side.

Adam Siddall and Taku Ngwenya are both unavailable, meaning a start for Shalom Suniula at fly-half, and Tim Maupin on the right wing, while Scott Lavalla will captain the side as Todd Clever drops down to the bench.

“We’re certainly resting some of our more active and veteran players as part of the overall approach, but this is also our last full Eagles assembly until the summer,” said head coach Mike Tolkin.

“As such, we need to look at players in a full-on international match. This is why some of the younger and newer players are getting a chance to prove themselves in the year before the Rugby World Cup.”

By contrast Tonga have made just one change to the team that beat Georgia, with Castres tighthead Paea Fa’anunu coming into the starting line-up for Sila Puafisi, who will have to bide his time on the bench at home ground Kingsholm, as one of three members of the Tonga squad who plays for Gloucester.

Ones to watch:

For Tonga: Sione Kalamafoni settled straight into life in the Premiership after joining Gloucester from Nottingham two years ago and expect him to have a big impact on home soil here. A powerful ball carrier, he is part of a formidable back row for Tonga and if they are given the chance, they could wreak havoc against the Eagles.

For USA: We could have gone for Stade flanker Scott Lavalla, who will skipper the side for the first time, but in the end we’re going to focus on vastly-experienced scrum-half Mike Petri. He will become one of the top ten most capped players for the Eagles in this game, and will be asked to play a key role alongside the inexperienced Shalom Suniula.

Head-to-head: We’ve mentioned Shalom Suniula already, and this should be a good test for him up against Tonga’s Kurt Morath. A standout player at the last World Cup, Morath made his international return against Georgia last time out, and offers a little stability at fly-half. While he only has 19 caps to his name, that still puts him well ahead of Suniula, who will have the chance to stake a claim for a starting spot in the longer term in the absence of Adam Siddall. Suniula will also get the chance to link up with brother Andrew who starts at inside centre.

Prediction: It was an impressive win over Romania for the Eagles, but with an experimental lineup, this could prove to be a step too far. Tonga will inevitably improve with another week together under their belts, and we think they will have too much for the USA in Gloucester. Tonga by 9!

Previous meetings:

2013: Tonga won 18-9 in Carson
2012: Tonga won 22-13 in Colwyn Bay
2011: Tonga won 44-13 in Esher
2007: Tonga won 25-15 in Montpellier
2000: Tonga won 29-6 in Nuku’alofa
1999: USA won 30-10 in San Francisco

The teams:

Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 David Halaifonua, 13 Siale Piutau, 12 Hermani Paea, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Viliami Ma’afu, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Joe Tu’ineau, 4 Tukulua Lokotui, 3 Paea Fa’anunu, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Tevita Mailau
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Sione Lea, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Lisiate Fa’aoso, 20 Hale T Pole, 21 Taniela Moa, 22 Latiume Fostia, 23 Otulea Katoa

USA: 15 Folau Niua, 14 Tim Maupin, 13 Seamus Kelly, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 Tim Stanfill, 10 Shalom Suniula, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Matt Trouville, 7 John Quill, 6 Scott Lavalla (c), 5 Greg Peterson, 4 John Cullen, 3 Mate Moeakiola, 2 Phil Thiel, 1 Nick Wallace
Replacements: 16 Tom Coolican, 17 Angus MacLellan, 18 Benjamin Tarr, 19 Tai Tuisamoa, 20 Kyle Sumsion, 21 Todd Clever, 22 Thretton Palamo, 23 Ronald McLean

Date: Saturday, November 15
Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Venue: Kingsholm, Gloucester
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland), Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
Television match official: RFU Appointment