7 Oct 2016

Sport: Tonga make mass changes for November rugby tour

5:48 am on 7 October 2016

Ten new caps and 12 former internationals have been selected in a revamped Tongan rugby squad for next month's European Tour.

Just nine players have been retained from the squad that was beaten by Fiji and Samoa during the Pacific Nations Cup in June.

Fiji and Tonga during the Pacific Nations Cup opener in Suva.

Not many players have been retained from the Pacific Nations Cup. Photo: Facebook / Fiji Rugby

Head coach Toutai Kefu said he had a much bigger pool of players to select from this time around.

"We didn't have access to the players we wanted for that PNC so, bar maybe three or four, it was always going to be if we got access to our best players or close to our best they would play in November," he said.

"So we got access to them and we also looked at some young players coming through so it's a good mixture of youth and experience I think.

"Also you can probably add another two or three that we've qualified over the last 18 months - especially (former Australia international) Cooper Vuna and (ex Aussie Sevens player) Atieli Pakalani was supposed to be in there but he's just recently got injured. Those two I was really looking forward to playing."

Former Wallabies winger Cooper Vuna was unable to inspire Tonga to success at the Monaco Sevens.

Cooper Vuna is poised to make his 'Ikale Tahi debut next month after representing Tonga in the Olympic sevens qualifer. Photo: World Rugby / Martin Seras Lima

Japanese based midfielder Siale Piutau is among nine players who last played for the 'Ikale Tahi at the 2015 Rugby World Cup to return to the national set-up.

Head coach Toutai Kefu said the 24 test midfielder Siale Piutau was an obvious choice to take over the captaincy from Nili Latu, who is recovering from knee surgery.

"I'd spoken to Nili (Latu) actually, even before the injury, that we were going to remove him as captain and it just happens, unfortunately, that he got injured. Siale Piutau is a player that is well respected within the group," he said.

"He's always - in terms of his own physical fitness and mentality, always at the front of the line and he's always one of the first picked so that was a bit of a lay down misere selecting him.

"Sione Kalamafoni was going to be the vice captain but unfortunately he's been injured so at the moment we've just got Siale as captain and then we will probably sort out through the camp who will be his deputy."

Siale Piutau has been appointed captain of Tonga.

Siale Piutau has been appointed captain of Tonga. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Sona Taumalolo (34), Tevita Mailau (31), Elvis Taione (33), Joe Tuineau (35), Thomas Palu (30), Siale Piutau (30) and Fetu'u Vainikolo (31) are all the wrong side of 30 with the next World Cup still three years away.

Toutai Kefu said it was a matter of balance.

"Obviously there's Sona Taumalolo and Tevita Mailau who are probably in that age bracket...Fetu'u Vainikolo, Joe Tuineau. At the moment those players were the best available to me," he said.

"There are other players we would have liked to got a hold of and we tried to convince to come over and they just made themselves unavailable. We needed a really tall, strong jumping lock and Joe Tuineau was obviously the only one that was there.

"We tried to get Sam Wykes from Japan and he made himself unavailable...so we needed a lineout leader and he fits the bill with Steve Mafi."

Toutai Kefu, playing for Australia in 2002.

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

Four of the 30-strong squad have been selected by the Tonga Rugby Union as part of a new policy that requires 15 percent selection of players to come

from the Tongatapu local competition.

"Whether I agree with that or don't I have to go along with that. I've left those selections up to the coaches who are in Tonga at the moment," Kefu said.

"It would be very unlikely that these players will play test match rugby so we kind of reshaped the group so certain areas where (there were) positions we can make selections for them. We've got one at halfback so we brought a third halfback along, a backrower, a lock and a outside back."

The team will assemble in Madrid, Spain on October 30 ahead of tests against Spain, USA and Italy.

Full squad:

1. Tevita Mailau - Perpignan - Prop

2. Ben Tameifuna - Racing Metro - Prop

3. Sila Puafisi - Glasgow Warriors - Prop

4. Siua Halanukonuka - Otago Highlanders - Prop

5. Sona Taumalolo - Grenoble - Prop

6. Paula Ngauamo - Mont De Marsan - Hooker

7. Elvis Taione - Exeter Chiefs - Hooker

8. Sione Lea - Taranaki - Hooker/Prop

9. Joe Tuineau - Dax - Lock

10. Steve Mafi - Castres - Lock

11. Albert Harision Manu Tuilatai Laufilitonga Kakau Mataele - Lock

12. Vainanuma Manu - Marist 'apifo'ou - Lock

13. Jack Ram - Auckland Blues - Loose Forward

14. Tevita Koloamatangi - Waikato Chiefs - Loose Forward/Lock

15. Dan Faleafa - Sc Albi - Loose Forward/Lock

16. Valentino Mapapalangi - Manawatu Turbos-Loose Forward/Lock

17. Bill Fukofuka - Loose Forward-Southland

18. Sione Lolohea - Number Eight/Hooker-Sila Pelu Ua

19. Sonatane Takulua - Newcastle Falcons - Halfback

20. Thomas Palu - Wellington Lions - Halfback

21. Sosefo Ma'ake - Havelu Bulldogs - Halfback

22. Latiume Fosita - Auckland - Inside Back

23. Kali Hala - Counties - Inside Back

24. Siale Piutau - Yamaha - Inside Back - (Captain)

25. Tevita Taufui - Waikato - Outside Back

26. Fetuu Vainikolo - Oyonnax - Outside Back

27. Cooper Vuna - Oyonnax - Outside Back

28. Nafi Tuitavake - Northampton Saints - Outside Back

29. Telusa Veainu - Leicester Tigers-Outside Back

30. Fetuli Paea - Sila Pelu Ua-Outside Back