Pacific island powerhouse Tonga got their build-up to Rugby World Cup 2023 off to the perfect start.
Benefitting massively from the recent World Rugby eligibility rule changes, Tonga welcomed back several veteran players who have previously represented tier one nations.
Key among these additions were the likes of Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa and Vaea Fifita.
All three players played key roles in the Tongan’s superb 27 – 21 victory. Whilst the victoy was a great result for Tonga, the scoreline in reality should not have been that close as the men in red raced out to a 24 – 0 lead in the first half.
Switching off somewhat in the second half, the Tongans struggled to counter a powerful Australian comeback as their lead shrunk to just three points at 24 – 21.
Yet with the game on the line, Tonga won a kickable penalty as Queensland Reds star Harry Wilson was pinged for not releasing on the ground.
Replacement halfback Manu Paea stood up to take the kick and pierced the uprights to send the raucous crowd at Teufaiva Stadium in Nuku’alofa into a frenzy.
The win will send a clear signal to Tonga’s Pool B Rugby World Cup opponents that they are not there to make up the numbers but rather to push for a play-off spot.
Tonga: 1. Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 2. Samiuela Moli, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Samiuela Lousi, 5. Halaleva Fifita, 6. Tanginoa Halaifonua, 7. Solomone Funaki, 8. Vaea Fifita, 9. Sonatane Takulua, 10. William Havili, 11. Fine Inisi, 12. Pita Ahki, 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 14. Israel Folau, 15. Charles Piutau.
Substitutes: 16. Siua Maile, 17. Tau Koloamatangi, 18. David Lolohea, 19. Steve Mafi, 20. Sione Vailanu, 21. Manu Paea, 22. Otumaka Mausia, 23. Kyren Taumoefolau.
Australia A: 1. Tom Lambert, 2. Folau Fainga’a, 3. Taniela Tupou, 4. Lukhan Salakai-Loto, 5. Cadeyrn Neville, 6. Lachlan Swinton, 7. Brad Wilkin, 8. Seru Uru, 9. Jake Gordon, 10. Bernard Foley (c), 11. Corey Toole, 12. James O’Connor, 13. Joey Walton, 14. Lachlan Anderson, 15. Jock Campbell.
Substitutes: 16. Lachlan Lonergan, 17. Angus Wagner, 18. Sam Talakai, 19. Ned Hanigan, 20. Harry Wilson, 21. Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 22. Ollie Sapsford, 23. Josh Flook
Referee: Dan Waenga