In the absence of captain Nili Latu, Tonga's senior players must step up in their Pool C encounter against Namibia at Sandy Park on Tuesday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Things haven't gone according to script for Tonga. Having lost their campaign opener against an inspired Georgia side, the Sea Eagles will front up in a vital clash against Namibia without Latu, who is sidelined through injury.
This is only their second Test meeting and the first at a World Cup. While Tonga will be eager to redeem themselves, they'll do well not to underestimate a determined Namibia side in search of an elusive first-ever World Cup victory.
Neither side really impressed in their previous outing, but Tonga have selected their most experienced lineup (327 caps) in World Cup history in their quest to topple the Welwitchias. In Jack Ram, Latu's replacement, Tonga won't lack an abrasive edge in the loose trio, but leadership might become an issue.
Bar a late consolation try, Namibia offered little on attack against the All Blacks, but skipper Jacques Burger led with aplomb and will undoubtedly do so again. Tonga will need similar tenacity from stand-in co-captains Viliami Ma’afu and Siale Piutau to get them over the line.
The odds are heavily stacked in Tonga's favour, but if Burger and back-row partners Renaldo Bothma and Rohan Kitshoff, who play for the Sharks and Western Province respectively, can dominate up front and Namibia stabilise their set-piece work, this just may be a much closer affair than expected.
MA'AFU'S STATS THAT MATTER
25 – Test caps
3 – Defenders beaten against Georgia
21 – Metres made
9 – Carries over the gainline
6 – Tackles made
HEAD TO HEAD
Tonga 1, Namibia 0
Tonga – 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 David Halaifonua, 13 Siale Piutau (c), 12 Sione Piukala, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10 Latiume Fosita, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Viliami Ma’afu (c), 7 Jack Ram, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Joseph Tuineau, 4 Hale T Pole, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha.
Subs: 16 Paula Ngauamo, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 Tukulua Lokotui, 20 Opeti Fonua, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Kurt Morath, 23 Telusa Veainu.
Namibia – 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Johan Tromp, 13 Danie van Wyk, 12 Johan Deysel, 11 Russel van Wyk, 10 Theuns Kotze, 9 Eneill Buitendag, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Rohan Kitshoff, 6 Jacques Burger (c), 5 Tjiuee Uanivi, 4 Janco Venter, 3 Johannes Coetzee, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 1 Casper Viviers.
Subs: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Johnny Redelinghuys, 18 AJ De Klerk, 19 Tinus du Plessis, 20 PJ Van Lill, 21 Damian Stevens, 22 Darryl de la Harpe, 23 David Philander.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Photo: Bertrand Langlois/Getty Images