Preview: Tonga v USA
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: Whatever the outcome of their final pool game against Tonga, USA’s assistant coach Greg McWilliams said there are plenty of positives for the Eagles to take out of World Cup 2019.
Both sides go into the game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium on Sunday hunting a first win but, in terms of lessons learned, McWilliams feels the benefits for his side have been enormous, despite defeats against England, France and Argentina.
The soon-to-be head coach of Major League side Rugby United New York said: “At this level you’re playing against Tier 1 countries with some of the best players in the world.
“Argentina was full of Jaguares [runners-up in Super Rugby], the French team was full of [national champions] Toulousains, the English team was full of [European champions] Saracens.
“All are achieving high success. For us to compete against them is incredible. We’ve learned a huge amount.
“If we can only get this level of competition every year we’ll have a real opportunity to improve.”
Tonga have been making the same point for a long while and McWilliams is looking forward to the two facing each other on Sunday.
“I love this Tongan’s team culture,” he said. “I love why they play and who they’re playing for.
“For us to be in that environment is so special and that’s a big thing for us – to take this experience, live every single second of it and have a good time.”
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‘Connect the players’
Tonga’s downfall has been their slow starts. As well as the France game, Argentina also took a 28-0 lead. Coach Toutai Kefu says they will try something a bit different this time.
Over-long warm-ups were one of the areas being looked at. Kefu also said: “We’re going to try to connect the players earlier in the day and do a few new things in the changing room.
“We watched the Americans’ game on Wednesday and they were very aggressive. If we don’t bring anything but our best we’re going to be in trouble.”
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Players to watch:
For Tonga: Siale Piutau, who turns 34 on Sunday, has announced this will be his last international game, as has flank Sione Kalamafoni. Both are in their third World Cups and were in the side who beat France eight years ago. They will be setting a Tongan record by making their 12th appearances in the tournament.
For USA: Captain Blaine Scully is equalling his country’s record in the tournament with his 11th appearance. American scrumhalf Ruben de Haas, 21, made his first start of the tournament in the defeat by Argentina. He nonetheless keeps his place in the first XV ahead of Shaun Davies, who began against England and France.
Head to head: The front row of Titi Lamositele, Joe Taufete’e and Eric Fry of USA will have to very physical if they want to challenge the big trio of Siua Halanukonuka, Paula Ngauamo and Siegfried Fisi’ihoi. In the backline, the halfback pair of AJ MacGinty and Ruben de Haas could have a slight advantage over Tonga duo James Faiva and Sonatane Takulua
2014: Tonga won 40-12, Gloucester
2007: Tonga won 25-15, Montpellier (World Cup Pool Match)
Prediction: Both teams are on the cusp of unwanted records. If USA lose, they will match their worst run in Rugby World Cup games, 10 defeats in a row. The Pacific Islanders have already equaled their worst RWC run with five successive losses. It will be a very tough contest, however, Tonga will win by 5 points or more.
Tonga: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 ‘Atieli Pakalani, 13 Malietoa Hingano, 12 Siale Piutau (captain), 11 Viliami Lolohea, 10 James Faiva, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Zane Kapeli, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Halaleva Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi.
Replacements: 16 Siua Maile, 17 Vunipola Fifita, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Dan Faleafa, 20 Nasi Manu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Latiume Fosita, 23 David Halaifonua.
USA: 15 Will Hooley, 14 Blaine Scully (captain), 13 Bryce Campbell, 12 Paul Lasike, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Ruben de Haas, 8 Cam Dolan, 7 Malon Al-Jiboori, 6 Tony Lamborn, 5 Nick Civetta, 4 Greg Peterson, 3 Titi Lamositele, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 1 Eric Fry.
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Olive Kilifi, 18 Paul Mullen, 19 Ben Landry, 20 Hanco Germishuys, 21 Ben Pinkelman, 22 Nate Augspurger, 23 Mike Te’o.
Venue: Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Higashiosaka City
Kick-off: 14.45 (01.45 USA-Eastern time; 05.45 GMT; 18.45 Tonga time)
Expected weather: Very cloudy but will clear later. High of 22°C and a low of 18°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)