Tonga and Japan say stakes high after losses
Story and Photo: www.rugbyworldcup.com
WHANGAREI, 20 Sept. – Tonga and Japan are both confident they can win their third Pool A clash on Wednesday at Northland Events Centre after going down in their first two matches at Rugby World Cup 2011.
Tonga lost their opening matches 41-10 to the All Blacks and 25-20 to Canada, while Japan went down to France 47-21 and the All Blacks 83-7. But both have targeted this match as the winnable one.
Japan have only won one match in RWC history, a 52-8 win over Zimbabwe in 1991.
"Both of us have lost our first two games, so the match will be crucial for the two sides. It'll be like a World Cup final for us," said Japan coach John Kirwan, whose big goal is to beat Tonga and Canada so his team can finish third in Pool A and qualify automatically for RWC in 2015.
Tonga have done marginally better, winning four out of 19 RWC matches, but were disappointed to allow Canada to come from behind for the victory in Whangarei last week.
Tonga fly half Kurt Morath said, “I think it’s the start of our Rugby World Cup. After what happened last Wednesday, if we can get up against Japan and then go into that last game against France, we want to do it on a high."
Ringing the changes
Both teams have rung the changes for this match. Tonga have made eight changes to the starting XV that lost to Canada, while Japan’s hand has been forced with injury.
Kirwan has brought back 13 of the first team that impressed against France in Japan’s RWC opener on 10 September, less injured number 8 Ryukoliniashi Holani and centre Koji Taira, who injured his left hamstring in the All Blacks defeat.
Among the 13 returning is fly half James Arlidge, who was named man of the match against France after scoring all 21 of Japan’s points.
“We’ve been planning for this, so for us confidence is really high, we know we have to have a great game,” Arlidge said. “But our boys are relaxed and confident, a little nervous, but that’s what I’d be expecting.”
It could be a display of two differing styles of rugby. Tonga, one of the largest teams in the competition in both height and weight and with a strong forward focus, are matched up against a lighter, faster Japan side.
The two teams last met at the Pacific Nations Cup in July, with Japan prevailing 28-27 en route to winning the four-way competition for the first time.
“I think that you’ll see two styles on Wednesday night, they’ll be trying to enforce their style on us, and we’ll be trying to enforce our style on them,” Kirwan said.
“ We’ve played each other a lot, we know each other from PNC, so we’ll be expecting the Tongans to be very aggressive and very physical and we just need to break that down with the way we play. “
But his flanker Itaru Taniguchi said Japanese players were ready to take the game back to them.
"We're not just going to try to stop them, we're going to hit back,” he said. “My guess is that they think Japanese players will sit there and take it, so imagine how surprised they might be if we took it right to them.”
A few players on each side will have inside knowledge. Japan’s Sione Vatuvei and Toetuu Taufa were born in Tonga, while two in the Tongan squad play in Japan - Viliami Ma'afu (Mitsubishi Juko Sagamihara RC) and Alaska Taufa (Akita).
“I know a lot about the Japan team,” said Ma’afu. “They love to play really fast rugby. Last time we played them in Fiji, they played a fast game so we would get tired. I’m expecting some of that again.”
This is the first time that Japan and Tonga have met in a Rugby World Cup match.