2 Aug 2019

Sport: ‘Resilient’ Tonga ring changes for Japan clash

12:50 pm on 2 August 2019

Tongan rugby coach Toutai Kefu says his team is resilient enough to bounce back from their opening loss in the Pacific Nations Cup when they meet Japan this weekend.

The 'Ikale Tahi have travelled to Higashiosaka fresh off a 25-17 loss to Samoa in atrocious conditions.

The 'Ikale Tahi players huddle together during training in Japan.

The 'Ikale Tahi players huddle together during training in Japan. Photo: Supplied/Tonga Rugby Union

They have had to deal with the loss of their inspirational captain Nasi Manu, who's been ruled out of the PNC with a pectoral injury and have also had their preparations delayed by the late arrival of their luggage from Apia.

However, Kefu said the Tongans are used to dealing with obstacles with aplomb.

"They're a pretty resilient bunch this lot, nothing really affects them," he said. "They have been through so much in the past and they just kind of get used to it and move on really, but we've landed alright."

Tonga rugby coach Toutai Kefu.

Tonga rugby coach Toutai Kefu. Photo: Supplied/Tonga Rugby Union

Tonga have made nine changes to their starting 15 for Saturday's game, with Kefu opting for what looks closer to a full-strength side to take on the Brave Blossoms at Hanazono Rugby Stadium, where they will also face Argentina and the USA during the Rugby World Cup.

Utility forward Dan Faleafa will start on the blindside flank after being called into the squad as a replacement for Nasi Manu.

Kefu described Manu as a "leader amongst men" and a massive loss but said Faleafa's transition has been smooth.

"Dan's always been a part of the squad in past campaigns so he is very familiar with our programme," he said. "He slots back in seamlessly. He's remained fit over the last couple of months."

Fotu Lokotui will start on the other flank, with Leva Fifita in at lock and hooker Sefo Sakalia and tighthead prop Maʻafu Fia joining front row.

In the backs, Sonatane Takulua and Latiume Fosita pair up in the halves, Atieli Pakalani gets a run on the left wing while regular captain Siale Piutau returns at centre.

Captain Siale Piutau returns at centre.

Captain Siale Piutau returns at centre. Photo: Supplied/Tonga Rugby Union

Tonga squad:

1. Paea Fa'anunu, 2. Sefo Sakalia, 3. Maʻafu Fia, 4. Steve Mafi, 5. Leva Fifita, 6. Dan Faleafa, 7. Fotu Lokotui, 8. Maama Vaipulu, 9. Sonatane Takulua, 10. Latiume Fosita,

11. Atieli Pakalani, 12. Cooper Vuna, 13. Siale Piutau (c), 14. Nafi Tuitavake, 15. David Halaifonua. Reserves: 16. Paul Ngauamo, 17. Toma Taufa, 18. Ben Tameifuna,

19. Onehunga Havili, 20. Zane Kapeli, 21. Sione Vailanu, 22. Leon Fukofuka, 23. James Faiva

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