6 Jul 2017

Sport: Tonga make two changes for Flying Fijians clash

12:58 pm on 6 July 2017

Tonga have made two changes to their starting side for Saturday's crucial Rugby World Cup qualifying match against Fiji in Nuku'alofa.

Jack Ram will start at openside flanker in place of former captain Nili Latu, who was forced to leave the tour due to a family emergency.

Jack Ram scores one of his two tries in Tonga's Rugby World Cup win over Namibia.

Jack Ram, playing here at the 2015 World Cup, will start against Fiji on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Tevita Taufu'i earns his first test start at second five, with captain Siale Piutau shifting to centre for Nafi Tu'itavake, who left the tour early for personal reasons.

Sione Tau will provide loose forward cover from the bench, with Kiti Taimani also elevated to the match-day 23.

Tongan midfielder Tevita Taufu'i playing for Waikato.

Tongan midfielder Tevita Taufu'i playing for Waikato. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

'Ikale Tahi growing in confidence

Tonga is embracing their 'underdog' status ahead of Saturday's test at Teufaiva Stadium.

The 'Ikale Tahi beat Samoa in Nuku'alofa last weekend, to keep alive their hopes of automatic World Cup qualification, while Fiji are coming off back to back wins against Italy and Scotland in Suva.

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu Photo: RNZI / Vinnie Wylie

Head coach Toutai Kefu said momentum was building.

"It's actually worked out well - we've had two games (against Wales and Samoa) leading up to our hardest game," he said.

"It's kind of like the scenario we had in November (prior to beating Italy).

"I think the position we're in is good for the team - we're a underdog and I think that's when we perform the best so the boys are absolutely looking forward to this game and I think we will probably have our best performance."

Tonga squad:

Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Paula Ngauamo, Siua Halanukonuka, Leva Fifita, Sitiveni Mafi, Dan Faleafa, Jack Ram, Valentino Mapapalangi, Sonatane Takulua, Latiume Fosita, Cooper Vuna, Tevita Taufui, Siale Piutau (c), David Halaifonua, 'Atieli Pakalani.

Bench: Suliasi Taufalele, Latu Talakai, Ben Tameifuna, Sione Tau, Mike Faleafa, Leon Fukofuka, Kali Hala, Kiti Taimani