The Ikale Tahi Tonga are focused on getting their combination right while the top priority on coach Toutai Kefu’s list is getting his players to gel for the Pacific Nations Cup (PNC) opener this weekend.
The team was announced three weeks ago and assembled last week. It will have 13 debutants with some playing together for the first time.
Tonga may carry big names, but those names are of no use if they will not click as a team.
For Kefu, the first step to having a team is for players to understand each other.
“For me, it’s just for now getting along with the players, building combinations and getting to know everyone. That is all what this campaign is about, the results don’t really matter,” Ikale Tahi Tonga Head Coach Toutai Kefu said.
Saturday is expected to be a gruelling physical affair. There is also anticipated running off the balls and forwards power play.
The PNC 2022 is set to kick start the Pacific Nations’ teams for their 2023 Rugby World Cup (RWC) qualifiers.
With Fiji already qualifying in the 2023 RWC in France, their Pacific island neighbors Tonga and Samoa will each be vying for a spot, either in the Oceania 1 or the Asia/Pacific 1 categories respectively.
Kefu revealed that they had brought 50 – 60 per cent of their world cup squad for the PNC.
“The world cup is probably the biggest goal, plus we need to qualify before we start talking about the world cup, so that is a big priority for us,” he said.
For the Tongans, qualifying for the upcoming 2023 RWC is goal number one; second is getting their combinations right and making sure what they practiced on the paddock is successfully transferred into their game.
Getting their cohesions right and putting the right players in the right positions will be equally vital, especially with the inclusion of former All Blacks and Wallabies players.
Former Wallaby Israel Folau, and former All Blacks Augustine Pulu, Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa, will be among the 13 players that will be making their debut for Tonga thanks to World Rugby’s new eligibility laws.
Speaking about Folau’s inclusion, Kefu said “There is no real expectation for him….the only pressure is the one he puts on himself, because he is a really good player and high quality so his expectation is really high. For me personally he is just really one of the boys and he is enjoying just being really one of the boys”.
Seeing the Tongan players blending, joking and being in a relaxed mode speaks volumes of their humble up-bringing.
Despite the big contracts and their huge achievements in the world of rugby, they seem like the typical relaxed island boys, but the fact remains that these Tongan island boys are here to play to the wire.