Scotland v Tonga - teams and prediction
WORLD CUP, ROUND THREE: Scotland face a must-win clash with Tonga in Nice on Sunday to stay in contention for a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals.
The Scots, ranked fifth in the world, went down to a disappointing 18-3 defeat against defending champions South Africa in their tournament opener, while Tonga were pummelled 16-59 by Ireland in their first match in a tough Pool B.
Only the pool winners and runners-up advance to the knock-out phase, meaning both Scotland and Tonga must win every match.
“Coming into the tournament we knew that we’d have to perform in every game to have a chance of getting out of this group, which we knew was going to be tough,” said Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie.
“We need to be on it for every game.”
Tonga, Ritchie added, “has got some extremely good players”, notably a handful capped by New Zealand and Australia who have reverted, under World Rugby rules, to play for their country of heritage.
“They are a very physical side and coming into the World Cup they have had an extended period of time together which is something where they usually struggle going into Test matches,” he said.
“With that extended period of time together they have got used to how each other plays, they’ve had time to put in systems. They have some dangerous players out there.”
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Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said the inclusion of the likes of 17-times capped All Black back Charles Piutau and centre Malakai Fekitoa, who won 24 caps for New Zealand, could only improve the South Sea Islanders.
“They bring their individual quality but also the experience of playing top-level test matches and at World Cups – and that will spread throughout the team,” he said.
“When you’ve got players like them on the field, they can score a try out of anything.”
With a large contingent of Scottish fans expected at the Stade de Nice, Townsend was focused on one thing only.
“We need to get our World Cup started with our first win. It’s our knock-out stage now. If we lose a game, we’re out, and we need to go out with that mentality,” the former Scotland and British and Irish Lion flyhalf.
Tonga coach Toutai Kefu, who was part of the Australia side that won the 1999 World Cup, named an unchanged starting XV from the 59-16 loss to Ireland in their opening game.
The only changes in the match-day 23 come in the shape of lock Adam Coleman, capped 38 times by Australia, and flyhalf Patrick Pellegrini coming onto the bench.
“They are our best players and I think after last week’s performance, it probably wasn’t our best version of us. They deserved another chance,” Kefu said of not changing his team.
“The only difference is Adam Coleman comes onto the bench and he might be able to give us a bit of an impact off the bench.”
Kefu added: “We are desperate to win. Last week wasn’t us, so we want to fix that.
“The dream is to win three games in a row. That would be a dream. We can’t look too far ahead of ourselves. We are fully focused on performance.”
Tonga scrumhalf Augustine Pulu, another with All Blacks experience having won seven caps in the country of his birth, added: “It’s knock-out footie this week. We understand what’s in front of us and put our best foot forward this week.
“We understand they are quality players but we can only focus on ourselves. Last week we didn’t fire our shots so this week we are going to redeem ourselves by going out there and doing our best.”
Players to watch:
For Scotland: Talisman Finn Russell is always a big threat. He has the ability to change a game and is a vital cog in Scotland’s attack. The return of Kyle Steyn is a major boost. The wing will partner with dangerman and fellow South African-born Duhan van der Merwe, who will aim to add to his 20-try tally from 32 caps. Centre Sione Tuipulotu, who starts for the fifth consecutive match, has to be in fine form to combat the strong runner of Tongas. In the pack, Jack Dempsey at Flank has been in fine form and is expected to put in another incredible performance. Meanwhile, Pierre Schoeman and WP Nel will inject some power from the bench, along with backs Huw Jones and Darcy Graham.
For Tonga: The big talking point is the inclusion of Adam Coleman. The lock, who won 38 caps for Australia, is set to become the 22nd player Tonga has handed a test debut if he comes on off the bench. In the starting XV, Vaea Fifita will be the one to get Tonga’s frontfoot ball with his strong carries. Tonga’s captain and a man mountain of a tight-head Ben Tameifuna is a powerful scrummaher and could be a big problem for Scotland. In the back, Charles Piutau is not new to World Cups and one can expect some strong running from the back. Malakai Fekitoa’s speed and strength can cause problems, while halfback combinations of Augustine Pulu and William Havili will be key decision-makers on the field.
@rugby365com: Scotland by eight points.
Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Jamie Ritchie (captain), 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18. WP Nel, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 George Horne, 22 Huw Jones, 23 Darcy Graham
Tonga: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Solomone Kata, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 10 William Havili, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Vaea Fifita, 7 Sione Talitui, 6 Tanginoa Halaifonua, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Halaleva Fifita, 3 Ben Tameifuna (captain), 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi
Replacements: 16 Sam Moli, 17 Tau Koloamatangi, 18 Sosefo Apikotoa, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Semisi Paea, 21 Sione Vailanu, 22 Sonatane Takulua, 23 Patrick Pellegrini
Date: Sunday, September 24
Venue: Stade de Nice, Nice
Kick-off: 17.45 (15.45 GMT, 16.45 BST, September 25, 04.45 TOT)
Expected weather: Mostly sunny with a high of 24°C.
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant Referees: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Additional report: AFP