CASTRES, FRANCE – The Tongans dined out at Nando’s for 10 days straight before winning an entertaining eight-try Rugby World Cup Pool C encounter with Namibia, according to reports.
If the claims in UK tabloid The Mirror are true, perhaps other teams should try out the Tongan-patented Peri-Peri chicken diet ahead of upcoming clashes. It may be a little late for Georgia, who face New Zealand on Friday, or Fiji and Canada, who play Wales and France respectively on Thursday – but there may still (just) be time for beleaguered hosts England to get a desperately needed spicy sauce boost ahead of their must-win game against Australia.
It certainly seemed to give winger Telusa Veainu added impetus. He was everywhere. He did everything. He scored two tries, made a third, and was only denied a hat-trick by an impressive try-saving tackle that bundled him into touch just as he was about to score.
The number 11 – only in the team as a late replacement for Fetu’u Vainikolo – started on the left wing, but was seen as often over on the right, or doing the centres’ tackling work in midfield. Flanker Jack Ram also scored twice, and Latiume Fosita added a fifth as Tonga kept their quarter-final dreams alive ahead of Sunday’s match against Argentina.
Namibia scored three tries in a World Cup match for the first time, but that is scant consolation for a side still desperately seeking a first tournament win, as they came up short 35-21.
A capacity 10,000 crowd at Exeter’s Sandy Park witnessed a thoroughly entertaining clash between two sides that were determined not to play forward-dominated rugby – a far cry from Tonga’s failed attempt to go toe-to-toe with the mighty Georgians.
Not that they had any need to worry. They had the wood on their opponents’ forwards from the first whistle to the last..
Tonga opened the scoring as Veainu powered through Namibia’s defence in the sixth minute to calm the Pacific islanders’ nerves after Namibia’s Danie van Wyk roused the crowd with a dangerous run.
Flanker Ram then showed impressive pace six minutes later as he broke down the short side and parted, in the manner of a rampaging Moses, despairing Namibian defenders to score.
But the African underdogs made the most of some careless Tongan rugby. Johan Tromp got his first try of the World Cup following an excellent run by second-row Tjiuee Uanivi.
Tromp’s score reduced the deficit to five points, but another lineout restored Tongan superiority. Soane Tonga’uiha punched the hole in Namibia’s defence that allowed fly-half Fosita to score.
Tonga might have had the game wrapped up at half-time, but inspirational Namibia skipper Jacques Burger ensured they would have to work for their win for the full 80 minutes.
The captain scored twice, both times from lineout drives as the Africans rallied in the early evening Exeter sun – but it would not be enough to haul in the powerful Tongans. He admitted as much after the match, telling reporters: “They were forwards’ tries, I was just at the back of it. It was great to get those tries, but I’d swap them any time to get a win.”
Kurt Morath added a late penalty for Tonga, to become his country’s all-time record points scorer.
The win has come at a cost, though. Tonga lost two key players after the interval. Lock Hale T-Pole fell awkwardly from a line-out and hobbled off in pain while Siale Piutau, one of two official captains appeared to have injured a cheekbone in the second half. Both are doubtful for the weekend’s meeting with Argentina in Leicester.
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