RLWC 2017 Match Preview: Tonga vs. England

Tonga will head in to Saturday’s clash against England looking to book their spot in a maiden World Cup final — something almost nobody would have believed could happen if you told them when the 2017 NRL season came to an end.

The high-profile inclusions of players such as Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita, Manu Ma’u and David Fusitu’a gave an already capable side the belief that they could indeed take the next step towards international success, and it didn’t take long to kick in. A demolition of Scotland in their opening game was bettered by a hard-fought, emotional win over Samoa, before the mother of all upsets saw them take down New Zealand.

Having secured top spot in the group, it was merely a formality for them to dispose of Lebanon in the quarterfinals and perhaps a touch of complacency began to kick in. Brad Fittler’s men refused to go away and took the game all the way to the final whistle, but the result was the right one — Tonga were on their way to the World Cup semifinals.

Awaiting the Cinderella story of the tournament is an England side that has, for the most part, flown under the radar at the World Cup. It’s not at all surprising, really, for a Wayne Bennett side to do that, and they’ll head in to Saturday’s game rightly as favourites, albeit slender ones, following their convincing win over Papua New Guinea.

With Sam Burgess back on deck and the spine looking much more potent with Gareth Widdop back at fullback, England’s World Cup form line has perhaps been the most consistent of any team outside of Australia — whom they only just lost to in Game One. With better finishing on that night they could well have troubled the Kangaroos, and they’ll be hoping for a shot at redemption next week should they get through Tonga.

Playing in Auckland may be somewhat of a leveler between these two teams; England have not won a Test in New Zealand since 2010 and never at Mount Smart before, which will likely be filled with Tongan support if the previous two games are anything to go by.

What we do know is that one could well go either way, and it might just come down to the composure of one or two players in a certain moment that ends up deciding this one.
 

Semifinal 2: Tonga vs. England

MATCH DETAILS

Date — Saturday, November 25, 2017

Time — 4:00pm AEDT (6:00pm local time)

Venue — Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand

 

LIVE STREAM AND TV INFORMATION

Live Stream — Channel 7’s https://7live.com.au/ (Australia only)

TV — Click here for a full country-by-country list of TV broadcasts.

 

TEAM NEWS

Tonga

 

England

Will Hopoate

1

Gareth Widdop

Daniel Tupou

2

Jermaine McGillvary

Michael Jennings

3

Kallum Watkins

Konrad Hurrell

4

John Bateman

David Fusitu’a

5

Ryan Hall

Tuimoala Lolohea

6

Kevin Brown

Ata Hingano

7

Luke Gale

Andrew Fifita

8

Chris Hill

Siliva Havili

9

Josh Hodgson

Sio Siua Taukeiaho

10

James Graham

Manu Ma’u

11

Sam Burgess

Sika Manu (capt.)

12

Elliott Whitehead

Jason Taumalolo

13

Sean O’Loughlin (capt.)

Sione Katoa

14

Alex Walmsley

Peni Terepo

15

Tom Burgess

Tevita Pangai Jnr.

16

Ben Currie

Ben Murdoch-Masila

17

James Roby

Reserves (TON) — Sam Moa, Manu Vatuvei, Joe Ofahengaue, Samisoni Langi

Reserves (ENG) — Jonny Lomax, Chris Heighington, Mark Percival, Scott Taylor

 

RLWC RESULTS SO FAR

Tonga

Game 1 — Tonga 50 def. Scotland 4 at Barlow Park, Cairns

Game 2 — Tonga 32 def. Samoa 18 at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

Game 3 — Tonga 28 def. New Zealand 22 at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

Quarterfinal — Tonga 24 def. Lebanon 22 at Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch
 

England

Game 1 — Australia 18 def. England 4 at AAMI Park, Melbourne

Game 2 — England 29 def. Lebanon 10 at Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Game 3 — England 36 def. France 6 at Perth Rectangular Stadium, Perth

Quarterfinal — England 36 def. Papua New Guinea 6 at AAMI Park, Melbourne

 

HISTORY

England and Tonga have never met before in a Test match, but have faced off on two occasions in 2006 as part of the Federation Shield. Playing in England, the home side was victorious on both occasions, including winning the final 32-14 in Widnes. Interestingly, while England have won just one Test match played in New Zealand, Tonga have won all three of their matches on Kiwi soil throughout this World Cup.

 

KEY MATCHUP — Andrew Fifita (Tonga) vs. James Graham (England)

Taumalolo might be the one attracting headlines for Tonga — and rightly so given his performances throughout the World Cup so far — his teammate Fifita is proving to be as equally important for Coach Kristian Woolf. Fifita ranks second in the team for metres gained so far this tournament (652m) and third behind both back-rowers for tackles, and has proven to be a handful for opposition teams anywhere on the field. His ability to get sets going coming off his own line has been crucial for Tonga, as has his attacking prowess inside the opposition’s 20m, while his offload is as good as anyone’s in the game. The man perhaps tasked with stopping him is James Graham, who has led from the front for England all World Cup. Graham leads all forwards in the team for metres and tackles made, and plays with his heart on his sleeve on every occasion — meaning he’ll certainly be looking to do everything he can against Tonga. Tonga have heavily relied on their go-forward in the middle to get points in the World Cup, so if England can match them and turn the match in to more of a grinding encounter, the Wall of White will certainly go a long way to ending the fairytale run of their opponents.

 

STORYLINE TO FOLLOW — Can Tonga’s young spine stand up again?

Tui Lolohea and Ata Hingano were perhaps the reason why Tonga finished over the top of New Zealand in the second half of their game, and started their quarterfinal against Lebanon in similar fashion to put Tonga in control of the contest. However, as the match wore on, both halves were guilty of over-playing their hand and choosing the wrong option at time, and it almost ended up costing them in the end as Lebanon threw the ball around and crossed for some spectacular tries. While England probably won’t chance their arm as much as the Cedars did that afternoon that, will certainly make life tough for the two halves and will pressure them in to injecting themselves at the wrong time, or not injecting themselves when their side needs it. If Lolohea and Hingano can find the form they’ve shown throughout the World Cup and take advantage of their dominant forward pack, Tonga are more than capable of knocking off their second tier-one nation in this World Cup. If they can’t, the fairytale might come to an end.

 

WHAT THEY SAID

“Tonga have got some great players and are showing that they are a great team. The forwards is obviously going to be a big battle as it is every game… Tonga have got some big boys and a great forward pack. We know we need to be a lot better than we have been in the previous week…” — England hooker Josh Hodgson (via NRL.com)
 

“I’d say this is the biggest challenge so far, they are playing real well, they are the dark horses of the competition and they have got strike power all over their whole team. Their halves and their forwards, they have got real big forwards and it’s across the park because their back three is big and strong too. They will have learned a lot from the Kiwis game; they will look at our defence and see what they can come up with to break it…” — Tonga hooker Siliva Havili (via NRL.com)

 

PREDICTION

It’s been some run from Tonga throughout the World Cup so far, and it’d take a brave soul to pick against a team with the likes of Taumalolo and Fifita. However, Tonga showed last week that if you can make the game in to a grind, they can drop off once their attacking flair starts not to work. England will do just that, and Bennett will have his team well drilled with their discipline to starve their opponents of chances. Expect a tight opening 60 minutes, before England’s experience prevails in the second half — setting up a Grand Final berth for the Wall of White once again. England by 12.

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