Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick has come out strong this week, saying the World Champions will not be underestimating Tonga in their Pool B clash this evening in Marseille.
Despite losing their previous match to world number one ranked Ireland in Paris, the Boks know that victory this evening will put them in a strong position to progress to the quarterfinals.
Securing a four-try bonus point will certainly be on their list of priorities against the South Pacific Islanders, who have yet to win a match at this year’s tournament.
Despite their record, Tonga possesses several experienced and high-quality operators, such as former All Black Malakai Fekitoa, captain Ben Tameifuna and Pita Ahki, to name three.
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Discussing the threats the Tongas posed, Stick said, “We are in a full-on Test-match mood. This could be our last media conference if we don’t win the game,” Stick said yesterday. “We’ve had a nice week of preparation. The good thing is that after the Ireland game, we had an eight-day turnaround until this game.
“Even if the result was not the one expected last week, the way we played against Ireland was good. It was probably the toughest, most beautiful game of the World Cup so far.
“But the reality is that this could be our last chance, so we are up and ready for the game.”
The Tongans have had a disappointing World Cup so far. They had heavier-than-expected losses to Ireland and Scotland, and there is a feeling that they have at least one big World Cup game in them, considering they have some very good players.
“With a guy like Ben Tameifuna there in the front row, they probably have one of the best scrums in the competition,” Stick pointed out.
“In the backline, they also have experienced star players who played for the All Blacks in the past.
“But we have picked an experienced team. Our goal is not just to handle the pressure but also to put them under pressure. We want to be clinical. So, we’ll pitch up with the right intensity and make sure that we capitalise on our opportunities.
“That is something we did not do well against Ireland: we did not convert our entries in their 22 into points. Against Tonga, if we create those opportunities, we must make sure we convert them into points.”
Having witnessed fellow Pool B rivals Scotland defeat Romania 84 – 0 a night prior, the Boks will know that they will need to wait until next week’s match between the Scots and Ireland to confirm their place in the knockout rounds.
Locking up the bonus will go a long way towards making Scotland’s job that much tougher, as they will then need to beat the Irish with a bonus point whilst denying the men in green any match points.
Knowing that the final scenario is somewhat out of their hands, Stick was clear to emphasise that all focus was on this evening.
“Our goal is to win the game, and we’ll assess during the game if things are going well for us. We’ll probably chase a bonus point, just to be safe.” He said.
Having once again rotated their squad significantly, Stick was clear to emphasise that the coaching staff did not view any particular line-up as being a confirmed first choice.
“We’re trying to build strong squad depth. We don’t have any A and B… We just know that we have 33 players who can pitch up every day when they’re given an opportunity.” Stick concluded
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