The question on everybody’s lips ahead of this Friday’s Rugby World Cup opener is how many points the hosts, New Zealand will put past Tonga in Auckland.
The 7th edition of the rugby fest gets underway at 9.30am Irish time and it promises to be six weeks of pure entertainment. As per tradition, the hosts get the tournament underway at the venue where the World Cup kicked off for the first time back in 1987. Incidentally it was the last time the All Blacks won the World Cup despite being the icons of rugby for many years.
They will be looking to bounce back following a disappointing tournament four years ago but are also under severe pressure to keep the Webb Ellis trophy in New Zealand not just for the six weeks of the tournament but four years. This pressure might take its toll on Graham Henry’s men but they shouldn’t keep losing any sleep over Friday’s match considering they have hammered Tonga on previous occasions.
It is Tonga’s fourth appearance in a World Cup and considering it is their national sport and is located just a short distance from New Zealand then Tonga should receive plenty of support in their games and could prove a tougher test for the All Blacks and fellow Group A opponents France then most people expect. They are a hard hitting side who will give everything and have drastically improved since France in 2007 as a handful of their players now ply their trade in Europe’s top leagues.
Tonga are renowned for their physicality and they have an unwanted record. They have picked up the most cards in World Cup history and have a habit of it and therefore Graham Henry might not want his big players like Dan Carter to play the full 80 minutes in case of injury. It is harsh to assume that Tonga will be beaten by a considerable margin, especially after beating Fiji in their last warm up game.
New Zealand will come out all guns blazing following two consecutive defeats in the Tri-Nations and the adrenaline of playing on front of your home crowd in a World Cup.
Coach Graham Henry has left out Conrad Smith and selected Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams as the All Blacks’ formidable centre pairing. Israel Dragg is a surprise inclusion at full back ahead of Mills Mulliana. Henry seems unsure on his back line selection as he gives Richard Kahui and Isaia Toeava the chance to shine. The All Blacks pack is a lot more settled though with Victor Vito replacing the injured Kieran Read at number 8 and hooker Andrew Hore is given the chance on the big stage.
Tonga will be up for the challenge and they have been talking a big game in the media all week with their captain Finau Maka even claiming most of his forward pack would make the All Black side. They have many players who play in England and their weakness in recent years has been fitness. They have copped with the top sides for most of the game but fallen away in the latter stages but that shouldn’t be a problem this time round as most of their team now play in Europe.
Players to watch:
There are a whole host of stars in the home side and the obvious one is point machine Dan Carter but watch out for heavyweight centre Ma’a Nonu. Graham Henry has options in midfield and as mentioned above Conrad Smith has been left out so Nonu will know he has to perform when given the chance. The big hitting Auckland Blues centre will be playing at his home ground and watch out for his big hits and mazy runs.
Tonga have a few interesting players in their side and young winger Viliame Iongi is just 22 and has been a revaluation for Tonga with his pace. He is a utility back so be sure to see him in most of Tonga’s matches. He has already scored 7 tries for Tonga in just six appearances. The player to watch though for Tonga is Northampton Saints prop Soane Tonga’uiha. He was born in New Zealand and is an agile forward who possesses a lot of pace and loves to run with the ball in hand. Despite his ability to run with the ball, he also loves the physicality and be sure to see him in the heart of the action. He is known for his size and fierce runs plus his try scoring ability. At 130kg you wouldn’t exactly think he is a try scoring candidate but the former New Zealand youth representative is a try scoring phenomenon and has ended the past two Premiership seasons as the top try scoring prop.
Did you know?
Tonga will be the first country in this year’s World Cup to perform the haka.
2003: New Zealand won 91 -7 in Brisbane
2000: New Zealand won 102-0 in North Shore City
1999: New Zealand won 45 – 9 in Bristol
New Zealand 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Richard Kahui, 13 Ma’a Nonu, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Isaia Toeava, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Richie McCaw (capt), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Cory Jane.
Tonga: 15 Vunga Lilo, 14 Viliame Iongi, 13 Suka Hufanga, 12 Andrew Ma’ilei, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Viliami Ma’afu, 7 Finau Maka (c), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Joe Tu’ineau, 4 Paino Hehea, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ephraim Taukafa, 17 Alisona Taumalolo, 18 Kisi Pulu, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Samiu Vahafolau, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Alipate Fatafehi.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Friday 9th September, 9.30am
Eden Park, Auckland
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