Tonga defeats Australia A to start their pre-World Cup build up

Tonga defeated Australia A 27-24 in Nuku'alofa on Friday, 14 July 2023. Photo: Sevenetini Tomoua

The ‘Ikale Tahi kicked off their pre-Rugby World Cup preparations on a high note after they defeated Australia A, 27-21, at Te’ufaiva Park in Nuku’alofa on Friday.

With several former Wallabies and All Blacks making their return to their homeland to wear the red of Tonga, over 10,000 fans reciprocated and turned up to cheer them on.

Australia A turned up with ex and current Wallabies in their line-up.

It made for an exciting clash and with the sun holding its own over the Tongan capital fans were not disappointed, with Tonga’s Crown Prince Tupouto’a Ulukalala in attendance himself.

Tonga struck early, running in for their first try two minutes into the game when Charles Piutau, a former All Blacks, ran through a gap in the Australia A line out wide to touch down following an early attack by the local side.

They scored three more through Fine Inisi, captain Sonatane Takulua and flanker Solomone Funaki.

Flyhalf David Havili was successful in adding the extras with two conversions while his replacement Outmaka Mausia kicked a long-range penalty to finish with 27 points.

Australia A’s points came in the second half with the wind behind them and a changed game plan which saw them on the attack more often.

Winning captain Takulua, who displayed a gash on his forehead after the game, said they had expected a tough clash.

“We knew that they were going to be tough and we had a game plan to start well, score early and keep going until the last whistle,” he said.

Australia A captain Bernard Foley said his side was aware it was going to be a physical battle.

“Tonga gave it to us from the start and they put us under pressure,” Foley said.

“We knew we came up against a real quality side and we knew they were going to be physical. They have some quality strike weapon in the backline, and we weren’t able to stop them earlier on and they got a roll on and we paid for that.”

Foley said the game was exciting as players were playing to also show their worth to their different national selectors for a spot on their national teams to the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

“I understand what an incredible occasion it is for everyone as the opportunity made us hungry and motivated to try and make the World Cup squads.”

Tonga defeated Australia A 27-24 in Nuku'alofa on Friday, 14 July 2023.

Tonga defeated Australia A 27-24 in Nuku’alofa on Friday, 14 July 2023. Photo: Sevenetini Tomoua

How it went

Foley started the game for Australia A and the ‘Ikale Tahi turned the fire on straight away with some big forward drives, led by Funaki, bulky prop Ben Taumeifuna and former All Black number eight Vaea Fifita.

That resulted in a movement which saw former All Black fullback Piutau dive over out wide for the home team’s opening try.

Moana Pasifika winger Inise scored in the 11th minute after some good work by the Tongan forwards and inter-changes amongst the backline, including start players Malakai Fekitoa and Israel Folau.

Flyhalf Havili converted before flanker Funaki, Moana Pasifika’s captain in the Super Rugby Pacific series, dived over close to the post in the 25th minute.

Havili added the extra two points as the ‘Ikale Tahi led 19-0.

Captain Takulua then chased an Inise kick through and dived over the ball on the Australia A line in the 33rd minute to take his team to a 24-0 lead at halftime.

Australia A came out firing in the second 40 and made some changes.

Winger Corey Toole scored in the 48th minute, partner winger Lachlan Anderson dotted down in the 61st before replacement Josh Flook added his in the 71st minute.

Foley kicked all three conversions as Australia closed the gap to 24-21.

But Tongan replacement Mausia raised the flags with his penalty and Tonga won 27-21 in the end.

Tonga will now meet the Flying Fijians in Lautoka, Fiji on July 22 in their opening Pacific Nations Cup match.

Source: RNZ