Tonga to miss key players for crucial World Cup playoff
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT: Tonga will be without star internationals Israel Folau, Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau for their World Cup playoff against Hong Kong on the Sunshine Coast on Saturday.
Outside back Folau, capped 73 times for Australia before his Wallabies contract was terminated in 2019, suffered a serious hamstring injury early in his Tonga debut in the 0-36 loss to hosts Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup.
Coach Toutai Kefu told Reuters the dual code international could be sidelined for up to another 12 weeks.
Former New Zealand centre Fekitoa had returned to Irish club Munster after suffering a calf injury while fellow All Black Piutau had only committed to two matches during the Pacific Nations Cup, Kefu added.
In a further blow, former Australia No.8 Lopeti Timani had also been scratched from the Hong Kong game after failing a fitness test at training on Thursday morning.
His place on the bench will be taken by Sione Tuipulotu.
Tonga have only missed qualifying for one World Cup in 1991 and should have too much quality for Hong Kong, despite heading into the playoff in dire form after three straight defeats at the Pacific Nations Cup.
The winner secures a place in Pool D at next year’s World Cup in France with reigning champions South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and Romania.
Tonga: Telusa Veainu, Tima Fainga’anuku, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Fetuli Paea, Anzelo Tu’itavuki, William Havili, Sonatane Takulua (captain), Sione Havili Talitui, Solomone Funaki, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Sam Lousi, Halaleva Fifita, Ben Tameifuna, Siua Maile, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi. Replacements: Samiuela Moli, David Lolohea, Siate Tokolahe, Semisi Paea, Sione Tuipulotu, Manu Paea, James Faiva, Otumaka Mausia.