8 Sep 2011

Sport: Tonga confident captain will lead in Rugby World Cup opener

10:54 am on 8 September 2011

Tonga is confident their captain, Finau Maka, will lead the side in tomorrow night's Rugby World Cup opener against the All Blacks in Auckland.

Maka has been hampered by an achilles strain.

Tonga's Solicitor Manager and team manager, Aminiasi Kefu, rates his chances of starting very high.

"About 90 per cent at the moment. We'll see at the captain's run and he's running. But he's assured us he wants to play. He's mentioned that in the press conference last night that he's going to play. He's been training on the sidelines, he's alright."

The captain's run is at five o'clock this afternoon.

Amongst seven changes to the side which beat Fiji in Lautoka last month Tonga has gone for a new centre pairing of Andrew Ma'ilei and Sukanaivalu Hufanga.

Chiefs halfback Taniela Moa will start ahead of the strapping 95-kilo Samisoni Fisilau.

Tongan coach Isitolo Maka, a former All Black No.8, has opted for a 5-2 forward-back split on the bench as they prepare to tackle the All Blacks up front

Maka says they're preparing for a bruising forward encounter.

The pack also includes Blues backrower Viliami Ma'afu, props Taufa'ao Filise from the Cardiff Blues and Soane Tonga'uiha of the Northampton Saints and hooker Aleki Lutui, who plays for Worcester.

Tonga: Vungakoto Lilo, Viliame 'Iongi, Sukanaivalu Hufanga, Andrew Ma'ilei, Siale Piutau, Kurt Morath, Taniela Moa, Viliami Ma'afu, Finau Maka (captain), Sione Kalamafoni, Joseph Ti'neau, Paino Hehea, Taufa'ao Filise, Aleki Lutui, Soane Tonga'uiha.

Reserves: Ephraim Taukafa, Alisona Taumalolo, Kisi Pulu, Sione Timani, Samiu Vahafolau, Samisoni Fisilau, Alipate Fatafehi