10 May 2016

Sport: New 'Ikale Tahi coach in race against time

11:13 am on 10 May 2016

The new Tongan rugby coach Toutai Kefu says his immediate goal is to get the team the winning again but admits there isn't much time to prepare the team for their next assignment.

The 42 year old was appointed last week until the end of this year but said he was keen to take the team through to the 2019 World Cup.

The former Wallabies number eight has most recently been coaching in Japan and had a brief stint as interim coach of the 'Ikale Tahi four years ago.

Kefu admitted he faced something of a juggling act with just over four weeks until they take on Fiji in Suva as part of the Pacific Tri Series.

"The immediate goal is to win. Also we have an ageing team: I was actually watching one of the games - I think it was the Argentina game - from the World Cup and one of the commentators mentioned that Tonga was the oldest team at the World Cup so we do have some ageing players but for me I probably need a fair few of those experienced players because we haven't got much time to prep for this upcoming PNC so it will be a mixture of some experience and some younger players."

Tonga players thank the crowd following their Rugby World Cup defeat to Argentina.

Tonga players thank the crowd following their Rugby World Cup defeat to Argentina. Photo: AFp

Tonga will also play test matches against Samoa and Georgia next month and Toutai Kefu said he hopes to confirm his final squad later this week.

"We've got players all over the globe: at the moment probably 70 percent of our players are in Europe (and) the rest are either in New Zealand and Australia. There will be very few coming from Japan for this tour but that's the goal. We've got almost the squad down on paper, we're just checking on some availability of some players. It's not the strongest squad but it's the squad that's available to us. There's a few players who are injured, who have had very long campaigns so they have made themselves unavailable, which is a bit of a shame, but we're going to work with the players that we've got and we should have a squad out hopefully in the next couple of days."

Toutai Kefu said he has been encouraged by the performances of some young Tongan players in Super Rugby this season and is confident there is enough talent coming through the ranks to help the national team.

"Look I'm buoyed by the fact that I've been watching Super Rugby for the last month and there are some exciting young Tongan talents on show. For example there's two young Tongans playing in the Hurricanes: Loni Uhila and (Vaea) Fifita. There's also some young Tongans playing for that Chiefs side - Sam Vaka came off the bench on the weekend and there's a backrower there as well. Look, for the future, World Cup, definitely looks good. There's some talent there and the timing couldn't be better with an ageing squad. Most of those players I've already spoken to, they've hinted of wanting to play for Tonga - it's obviously just that contractual detail that we need to go through."

Toutai Kefu, playing for Australia in 2002.

Toutai Kefu, playing for Australia in 2002. Photo: Photosport