The announcement of Tonga’s squad for their Rugby World Cup warm-up matches caught the attention of the rugby public, with several former All Blacks and Wallabies featuring in the Toutai Kefu team.
The change in the eligibility laws at the start of 2022 has undoubtedly benefited the Pacific Island nation with three former Wallabies, five All Blacks and a former New Zealand sevens star included.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Kefu hailed the change in the eligibility law.
“This is obviously a different class of side compared to teams we have had in the past, and what it enables us to do, it provides us with some massive X-factor,” the Tonga coach said.
Kefu has a healthy selection headache for the World Cup, and we have taken a stab at selecting a matchday squad that could cause an upset at the tournament despite being drawn in the same pool as Ireland, South Africa, Scotland and Romania.
Potential Tonga XV at Rugby World Cup 2023
15 Israel Folau: It was not his playing ability that led to his exit from Australia but rather his anti-gay social media posts. During his time with the Wallabies, he was among the best fullbacks in the game, and Tonga will hope to get the most out of his talents in France.
14 Charles Piutau: The Japan-bound former All Black has proved his quality time and time again. The 31-year-old is a proven match-winner, and it will be a joy to finally see him perform in rugby’s biggest showpiece, having missed out on the 2015 All Blacks squad.
Oh, Charles Piutau! 🤩
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) September 17, 2021
Spoilt for choice
13 Malakai Fekitoa: A tough call between two former All Blacks for one of the centre roles, with George Moala and Fekitoa capable of filling the 12 and 13 jerseys. After his performances with Munster in the latter stages of the URC, we have gone with Fekitoa in the number 13 jersey, but we could even see the pair link up in Tonga red. There really isn’t a wrong answer here for Kefu, especially with Perpignan’s Afusipa Taumoepeau in the squad too.
12 Pita Ahki: The former New Zealand sevens star has been a mainstay in the Toulouse backline since joining the side in 2018. Ahki’s skillset should see him sneak into the starting team in the hotly contested midfield, as he will be able to add some grunt, but his playmaking is undoubtedly his biggest asset.
NEW VIDEO: I've clipped up a tribute for Toulouse centre Pita Ahki! I hope I did it some justice @thomascorbet_mo !
— Andrew Forde (@andrewfrugby) January 13, 2022
11 Solomone Kata: The 28-year-old provides Kefu with versatility, having played in the centres and on the wing for Exeter Chiefs this season. He has been listed as an outside back on the official team release, and with Ahki, Fekitoa, Moala and Taumoepeau in the centres, we expect he will play out wide. There is stiff competition from Fine Inisi and Kyren Taumoefolau, though.
10 William Havili: A position in which Tonga has a limited amount of depth, but Havili provides a safe option in the pivot role. He started all three of their November internationals in the position and has been a solid presence at fullback for Moana Pasifika. Otumaka Mausia provided cover on the bench for Havili last year, while uncapped Doncaster Knights flyhalf Patrick Pellegrini is an intriguing prospect for the side.
9 Sonatane Takulua: The experienced halfback did not feature for Tonga last November, but we expect him to captain the side and add another place-kicking option outside Havili. The ‘Ikale Tahi captain does have stiff competition in former All Black Augustine Pulu and Moana Pasifika halfback Manu Paea.
Mighty back row
8 Sione Vailanu: Again, Kefu has plenty of options in the back row with a lot of versatility and strong candidates in all positions. Vailanu excelled for Glasgow this season, whether he was packing down on the side or back of the scrum. Sione Havili and Tanginoa Halaifonua will likely contend for the blindside and number eight jumpers.
7 Solomone Funaki: The flanker was a regular starter for Tonga in 2022 and continued that form with Moana Pasifika in Super Rugby. He is another who could pack down at number eight but has featured more prominently on the side of the scrum for Kefu.
6 Vaea Fifita: The former All Blacks star has been in incredible form for Scarlets this season and will hope to replicate that form with ‘Ikale Tahi this year. The 30-year-old powerhouse forward could also slip into the second row if Lopeti Timani makes a press for a start.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) March 31, 2023
Strong second row
5 Adam Coleman: Another former Wallaby and another world-class addition to the squad. Coleman’s father captained Tonga in the 80s, and he will be out to make a splash in the red jersey later this year. The uncompromising lock will have competition from Leva Fifita and Steve Mafi. However, the 31-year-old looks to be a straightforward pick for Kefu and immediately bolsters the Tongan’s scrum.
4 Samiuela Lousi: Fifita’s Scarlets teammate is another straightforward pick in the pack. He has been in stellar form for the Welsh side this season and will form a fearsome second-row partnership with Coleman. If Tonga are to cause an upset, they will need some parity in the pack, and Lousi and Coleman will go a long way in achieving that.
3 Ben Tameifuna: Tonga are renowned for having massive packs, and they don’t get much bigger than tighthead Tameifuna. The Bordeaux prop regularly tips the scales at around 150 kilograms making him an imposing threat with ball in hand and near immovable in the scrums. Technically, he is sound and can play both sides of the scrum. Similarly, David Lolohea provides options on both sides of the hooker, as does Tau Koloamatangi.
2 Samiuela Moli: There are three other solid candidates for the starting hooker role in Paula Ngauamo, Siua Maile and Sosefo Sakalia. However, Moli has played more regularly this season as a mainstay in the Moana Pasifika starting XV. We back him to take the starting jersey for the warm-up matches, but the remaining trio will make it challenging for him to retain it.
1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi: Another regular club starter, the loosehead prop position has several strong candidates. Fisi’ihoi is arguably the pick of the lot, with Provence Rugby’s Lolohea and Moana’s Feao Fotuaika contesting for the role.
Replacements: 16 Paula Ngauamo 17. David Lolohea 18. Tau Koloamatangi 19. Leva Fifita 20. Tanginoa Halaifonua 21. Augustine Pulu 22. Otumaka Mausia 23. George Moala