SPORTS

Tongans regroup after All Blacks defeat, target Rugby World Cup win over Canada

09/13/2011 02:43 EDT | Updated 11/12/2011 05:12 EST
WHANGAREI, New Zealand - Isitoli Maka made 11 changes to his Tonga lineup to face a Canadian side that will be at full strength and has won both of the previous World Cup contests between the two nations.

It's amazing what a bit of confidence will do.

Tonga lost the tournament's opening match 41-10 to host New Zealand last Friday night, but did enough in the second half to contain the All Blacks to 12 points and crossed for a try as well.

The opening match brought Auckland to a standstill, with downtown gridlocked by the 250,000 people who flooded the streets, bringing ferries to a halt and major delays on buses and trains. More than one-third of New Zealand's population was tuned into the broadcast.

Whangarei, the most northern of the World Cup venues in New Zealand, won't have quite the same buzz. And Canada is playing its first match on Wednesday, six days into the tournament.

Taniela Moa, who moved out to fly half to face Canada, said he's looking forward to the smaller venue at the Northlands Events Centre, because it's more like Tongan capital Nuku'alofa and busloads of supports will arrive on game day.

"The boys will get up for this," Moa said. "We have lot of confidence after our second half against the All Blacks.

"We're positive and we have the mentality we can beat them. Canada has beaten us in both previous matches, and that is motivating the team to give them a fight."

Hooker Ephraim Taukafa is the only Tongan who has played in a World Cup match against Canada, a 24-7 loss in 2003.

The Canadians have four survivors from that match squad, although Jamie Cudmore is the only one who started.

Ed Fairhurst, Ryan Smith and James Pritchard are in the starting lineup now, but came on as replacements in 2003. That was the last time Canada won a World Cup match, having gone through the 2007 edition with losses to Australia, Fiji and Wales and a 12-12 draw against Japan.

Canada won't mind giving away the quasi-home advantage. After all, both of its RWC wins over Tonga have come in Australasia. Canada beat Tonga 37-4 in its first World Cup match in 1987, and the 2003 edition was in Australia.

On top of that, the Canadians are in good form coming into the tournament, with Cudmore's return for his only his second and third tests since the last World Cup helping them to back-to-back wins over the United States in warmups.

In the only changes to the team which beat the U.S. in the second of those matches, Smith returns at inside centre and Fairhurst is returning at scrumhalf, having missed the last Eagles match due to work commitments.

Cudmore, the six-foot-five, 256-pound lock who plays for French club Clermont Auvergne, adds a professional edge to the Canadian squad.

"He brings great experience, there is only him and DTH van der Merwe who play in the top leagues in the world — then we have three players who have division one in England and the rest of the guys are locals," said coach Kieran Crowley, a fullback who was part of New Zealand's 1987 World Cup winning squad. "He brings experience at that level and he brings the attitude of a hardened professional player."

Since Crowley took over as coach in the wake of the last World Cup, he hasn't been able to call on Cudmore more due to a combination of injuries, suspensions and commitments in the French league.

"So it's great to see him back," Crowley said.

The All Blacks exposed some deficiencies in the Tongan defence in the first half, giving Canada hope of exploiting some weaknesses, but Crowley expects it will be a much tighter contest in Whangarei.

"They're a very good side. Very physical. Direct. They've got a lot of experience there now with all their players overseas in Europe or in New Zealand, and we expect a pretty physical challenge," Cowley told The Associated Press. "They've made a few interesting positional shifts, with Mola going to No. 10, so it's an indication maybe they're going to run it a little bit more this time."

The Tongans took and made some heavy contact in a bruising match against the All Blacks, part of the reason Isitolo Maka made so many changes to his starting team. Before the tournament, the Tongans have said they're aiming for a quarter-final spot in a group containing New Zealand and two-time finalist France, so they're targeting wins over Canada and Japan at the very least and an upset against the French.

"I think we're looking at making sure that everyone is fit and ready because we still have two more games left and the turnaround was too short from last Friday to Wednesday," Maka said. "We're trying to rotate last week and this week and probably trying to pick the best team for Japan, but we have to worry about Canada first.

"We have a lot of respect for them. They beat the USA and you can see the USA did well against Ireland. There are no easy games."

___

Tonga: Kurt Morath, Fetu'u Vainikolo, Siale Piutau, Alipate Fatafehi, William Helu, Taniela Moa, Thomas Palu; Samiu Vahafolau, Sione Vaiomounga, Finau Maka (captain), Tukulua Lokotui, Sione Timani, Kisi Pulu, Ephraim Taukafa, Alisona Taumalolo. Reserves: Aloisio Ma'asi, Soane Tonga'uiha, Halani Aulika, Viliami Ma'afu, Sione Kalamafoni, Viliame Iongi, Alaska Taufa.

Canada: James Pritchard, Ciaran Hearn, DTH Van Der Merwe, Ryan Smith, Phil Mackenzie, Ander Monro, Ed Fairhurst; Hubert Buydens, Pat Riordan, Jason Marshall, Jebb Sinclair, Jamie Cudmore, Adam Kleeberger, Chauncey O'Toole, Aaron Carpenter. Reserves: Ryan Hamilton, Scott Franklin, Tyler Hotson, Nanyak Dala, Conor Trainor, Sean White, Matt Evans.

MORE:cpSports