New Zealand v Tonga - Teams and Predictions
RECLAIMING TOP SPOT: New Zealand have warned Tonga they will be shown no mercy in Auckland on Saturday, with the once world-dominant All Blacks marking the Test as the start of their quest to return to the top.
“If we really want to be where we want to be, we’re going to have to be good right now,” coach Ian Foster declared as he named a strong line-up and dismissed suggestions the All Blacks could go easy on a hastily cobbled Tonga team.
The All Blacks will have 372 Test caps o the pitch at the start while Tonga, finding it impractical to call on their experienced Europe-based players during the Covid-19 pandemic, have nine debutants starting and four more on the bench.
“It’s a Test match and they’re representing their country and we expect the same passion we’d expect out of any international team,” Foster said when questioned about the lopsided nature of the contest.
The three-times world champion All Blacks ruled rugby as the undisputed number one side from 2009 to 2018 but were knocked off their pedestal by Ireland before the 2019 World Cup, where they finished third.
In 2020 – Foster’s first year in a two-year contract as head coach – they were disappointing with only three wins from six Tests, including the first-ever loss to Argentina.
If Foster is to be reappointed to take the side through to the 2023 World Cup, he knows he needs the All Blacks to make a powerful statement this year.
“Our goal is to be number one. That’s where we want the All Blacks to be and this is our first Test,” he said.
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Following Tonga, the All Blacks play Fiji twice before the much tougher challenges against Australia, Argentina and reigning World Cup champions South Africa in the Rugby Championship.
That will be followed by a European tour with Tests against France and Ireland.
Veteran hooker Dane Coles, who starts in his 75th Test against Tonga, said last year’s 50 percent win record was not good enough.
“It’s good that Foz [Foster] has laid down that vision for us. We’ve got to get this team back to where we belong. But it’s not going to be easy,” Coles said.
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A raft of midfield injuries has seen Quinn Tupaea earn his first Test cap in the only surprise in the All Blacks starting 15.
The in-form Richie Mo’unga won the right to the 10 jersey with Damian McKenzie at fullback with Foster saying double world player of the year Beauden Barrett needed more time to adjust to the intensity of New Zealand after a season in Japan.
Foster has rested Aaron Smith and Codie Taylor from the match-day 23 after their heavy Super Rugby schedules.
In addition to Tupaea, prop George Bower, flanker Ethan Blackadder and scrum-half Finlay Christie are set to make their Test debuts off the bench.
Tonga’s rugby team was forced to replace prop Tau Kolomatangi on Friday, on the eve of their Test against the All Blacks in Auckland, after he was found to have previously played for Hong Kong, making him ineligible.
Because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, Tonga are already without several senior players based in Europe and have drafted in 13 uncapped players into their matchday 23 for Saturday’s game.
Kolomatangi, who weighs 145kg (320lbs) and is nicknamed “Tow Truck”, turned out for Hong Kong in one match against Belgium in 2019.
Tonga is disputing his Hong Kong eligibility and questioned whether Kolomatangi had completed three years residency, but accepts that until it gets a ruling from World Rugby the heavyweight prop must be sidelined.
“That could take weeks, possibly months,” team manager Lano Fonua told AFP, with a decision not expected before Tonga plays Samoa later this month in a World Cup qualifying series.
They have replaced Kolomatangi with another uncapped player, Luatangi Li, who plays for the Northland provincial side in New Zealand as well as the San Diego Legion in the United States.
The scoreline is of only academic interest in the Test, with the All Blacks’ focus on preparing for the tougher Rugby Championship ahead while Tonga eyes their World Cup qualifying matches.
The average score from six previous Tests between New Zealand and Tonga is 70-7 including a 92-7 hiding before the 2019 World Cup – which Tonga coach Toutai Kefu sees as a good omen.
“We had the same scenario leading up to the (2019) World Cup when that scoreline blew out and in the World Cup we put ourselves in with a chance to win most of those games late in the second half,” Kefu said.
“It’s going to be a big step down when we do play Samoa, so that might give us an advantage.”
Players to watch
For New Zealand: The spotlight will be on the new recruits. Inside centre Quinn Tupaea is included in the starting 15, with prop George Bower, loose forward Ethan Blackadder and Scotland-born scrumhalf Finlay Christie to make their debuts from the bench. Captain Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett are the starting locks, along with Dane Coles will be under the microscope and will have to be in fine form.
For Tonga: It will be a challenging encounter, however, the newcomers have an opportunity to prove themselves. The entire loose trio of Mateaki Kafatolu, Solomone Funaki and Sione Tu’ipolotu are newcomers. There are also three debutants in the tight five in the form of Duke Nginingini, Sam Moli and Don Lolo. Nikolai Foliaki, Fine Inisi and Hosea Saumaki are the new faces in the backline.
Head to head: All Blacks are overwhelming favourites against a Tonga side featuring nine debutants in the starting line-up and lacking their top Europe-based players. The encounter will be a battle of brute strength as Tonga’s pack will try to bulldoze their way over All Blacks. Experienced hooker Dane Coles starting in his 75th Test alongside props Karl Tu’inukuafe and Angus Ta’avao will go up against Tonga’s Sila Puafisi, Sam Moli and Duke Nginingini.
@rugby365com: All Blacks by 30 points.
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 George Bower, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ethan Blackadder, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Jordie Barrett.
Tonga: 15 James Faiva, 14 Hosea Saumaki, 13 Fine Inisi, 12 Nikolai Foliaki, 11 Penikolo Latu, 10 Kalione Hala, 9 Sonatane Takulua (captain), 8 Sione Tu’ipolotu, 7 Solomone Funaki, 6 Mateaki Kafatolu, 5 Zane Kapeli, 4 Don Lolo, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Sam Moli, 1 Duke Nginingini.
Replacements: 16 Siua Maile, 17Jethro Felemi, 18 Luatangi Li, 19 Harrison Mataele, 20 Viliami Taulani, 21 Nasi Manu, 22 Leon Fukofuka, 23 Walter Fifita.
Date: Saturday, July 3
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.05 (20.05 Tonga time; 07.05 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be sunny with a high of 14°C and a low of 5°C.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Glenn Newman
Compiled by Leezil Hendricks