Ireland v Tonga - Teams and Prediction
WORLD CUP, ROUND TWO: Despite opening their World Cup campaign with a huge win over Romania, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has called on his team to be more ruthless in their second pool match against Tonga.
Farrell has once again named a powerful side with just four changes to the starting team that defeated the Romanians.
The big talking point was whether the Ireland coach would risk Johnny Sexton again ahead of the Springbok clash and Farrell answered those questions by giving his squad captain the No.10 jersey for Saturday’s match.
On his team selection, Farrell said: “A bit of continuity from last week. It’s a different game, isn’t it? A different challenge, Tonga.
“Respecting the opposition is absolutely at the forefront of our minds, respecting the competition, but more so respecting ourselves.
“Every game is of the same importance for us and a strong side is what we’ve got anyway within the group of 33.”
Despite Ireland being the favourites for the match, Tonga can be tricky opponents and that is why Farrell wants his team to make full use of their opportunities.
“I’m sure that everyone would like to see that part of their game grow; take their opportunities when they can. Making sure that we’re consistent with getting better is absolutely the key,” Farrell explained.
“Having said that, the opposition’s got a say in that, haven’t they?
“We’re playing against a good side this weekend.”
The preview continues below…
Sexton and that record
Sexton said he didn’t have to do any convincing to be included in this week’s team
“I don’t have any say in selection, I just rock up to training and do my best,” said the playmaker.
“Obviously I want to play. When you only have a certain number of games left in your career, of course you want to play, but it’s what’s right for the team, what’s right for different individuals.”
Sexton will have a chance to set a new overall points record for Ireland. The 38-year-old flyhalf is just nine points off his predecessor Ronan O’Gara’s points mark of 1,083 after scoring 24 in last Saturday’s opening rout of Romania.
On what it would mean to become Ireland’s top points scorer, Sexton added: “It’s not something that comes into my head too often.
“It will be a very special moment individually, but no one else will really care. I won’t be making decisions based on the back of it; I want to win the game; I want to progress further in the competition – that’s the only thing that’s going through my head at the moment.”
Meanwhile, Toutai Kefu has included four former All Blacks in Tonga’s starting XV: fullback Salesi (Charles) Piutau, centre Malakai Fekitoa, scrumhalf Augustine Pulu and No.8 Vaea Fifita. Captain Ben Tameifuna will form a heavyweight front row with Siegfried Fisi’ihoi and Paula Ngauamo.
Kefu said the All Black players had a good influence on his squad in the build-up to the World Cup.
“They’ve had a massive input already, both on and off the field,” said Kefu.
“The biggest difference is off-the-field stuff – mindset, professionalism, a really good attitude, so that’s been refreshing and the younger players have observed that.
“They’ve raised the level of standard and expectation of all the players.”
Facing the world’s No.1 ranked side in your opening game is a daunting task, but it is something the Tongans are fully embracing.
“It doesn’t really matter because it is what it is. We’ve had some wonderful warm-up games so what better way to start off with a bang against the best team in the world,” Kefu explained.
“It’s a massive challenge for us, we’re looking forward to it.”
He added: “I’ve watched Ireland over the last 12-18 months and they’re absolutely deserving of the No.1 ranking. Very professional team, very cohesive team. No matter who they put out on the field, they’re going to be very hard to beat.”
Players to watch
For Ireland: Captain and flyhalf Johnny Sexton is on course to break Ronan O’Gara’s Ireland points record, but more importantly, the coaching staff will be hoping their talisman does not pick up any injuries ahead of the Bok game. Wing Mack Hansen is back on the wing and he brings an extra edge on attack with his speed. In the pack, Josh van der Flier is the real workhorse and he hardly puts a foot wrong when he is out there giving it his all. Van der Flier’s Leinster teammate hooker Ronan Kelleher also starts and he can be a livewire around the park. He is one of those players who loves to get into the thick of things around the rucks.
For Tonga: There will be a spotlight on the All Blacks in the team. In the midfield, Malakai Fekitoa will always be a threat with ball in hand. His speed and strength can cause problems and he knows where the gaps are on the field. The Tongans will probably be eyeing the counterattack as their main weapon against the Irish and if the ball is not kicked out, you can expect a player like Salesi Piutau to run the ball back. Scrumhalf Augustine Pulu will be a key decision-maker on the field and he will surely have more speed than his opposite number, Conor Murray. In the pack, Vaea Fifita is a strong ball carrier and he will be one of the players Tonga will look to when it comes to getting over the advantage line.
Key RWC info
- Tonga have handed test debuts to more players at World Cups than any other nation (21).
- Wallaby Adam Coleman faces a patient wait to be the next, though, as the lock has been left out of the matchday 23 v Ireland.
- Finau Maka and Enele Taufa, were Tonga’s last RWC test debutants in 2007.
- Ireland have the second-oldest squad at Rugby World Cup 2023 behind South Africa, with an average of 29 years and 149 days when the tournament kicked off.
@rugby365com: Ireland by 32 points
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Robbie Henshaw.
Tonga: 15 Salesi Piutau, 14 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Solomone Kata, 10 William Havili, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Vaea Fifita, 7 Sione Talitui, 6 Tanginoa Halaifonua, 5 Halaleva Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Ben Tameifuna (captain), 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi.
Replacements: 16 Sam Moli, 17 Tau Koloamatangi, 18 Sosefo Apikotoa, 19 Semisi Paea, 20 Solomone Funaki, 21 Sione Vailanu, 22 Sonatane Takulua, 23 Fine Inisi.
Date: Saturday, September 16
Venue: Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes
Kick-off: 21.00 (19.00 GMT; 20.00 UK & Ireland time; 08.00 Sunday, September 17 TOT)
Expected weather: A thunderstorm is expected to roll in, but it is set to clear up by kick-off with a temperature around 18°C.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (England), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)
Additional sources: AFP & @World Rugby