All-star trio missing again for Tonga's final Pacific Nations Cup clash
Tonga’s all-star trio have all been excluded by the ‘Ikale Tahi for the second match running as the Pacific Nations Cup comes to an end.
Former All Blacks pair Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau, as well as ex-Wallabies star Israel Folau, are all absent from Tonga’s match day squad to face Australia A in the final round of the Pacific Nations Cup this weekend.
Fekitoa, Piutau and Folau stole headlines earlier this year when they were included in the ‘Ikale Tahi squad for the first time thanks to World Rugby’s new eligibility laws.
However, all three players have been limited to just one outing for Tonga thus far, starting in Tonga’s 36-0 defeat at the hands of Fiji in Suva a fortnight ago.
The trio were then absent in the ‘Ikale Tahi’s 34-18 defeat to Samoa in Lautoka last week, and have again missed the cut to close out their Pacific Nations Cup campaign at Churchill Park on Saturday.
Instead, head coach Toutai Kefu has opted to retain those who replaced Fekitoa, Piutau and Folau, the latter of whom’s absence might be injury-enforced given he hobbled off less than half an hour into the match against Fiji.
Folau was subsequently replaced on the right wing by Tima Fainga’anuku, who keeps his place in the No 14 jersey, while Fekitoa’s successor, Fetuli Paea, remains at second-five for the Australia A clash.
Young playmaker William Havili took Piutau’s spot at fullback against Samoa, but has been shifted to first-five in place of the benched James Faiva, making way for ‘Otumaka Mausia to come into the No 15 jersey.
That alteration is one of seven changes made to Tonga’s starting lineup, while there are seven more new faces on the ‘Ikale Tahi’s eight-man bench.
Even amongst all that rotation, Kefu hasn’t found room for former two-test All Blacks halfback Augustine Pulu, whose Tonga debut has been delayed due to injury.
Pulu is therefore expected to debut for the ‘Ikale Tahi later this year alongside Vaea Fifita, the 11-test former All Blacks utility forward who this week qualified to play for Tonga after completing his three-year stand down from test rugby.
Of those who have been named to face Australia A, the most notable figures include veteran tighthead prop Ben Tameifuna and experienced outside back Telusa Veainu, who has been picked on the bench despite missing selection in Tonga’s initial squad.
Out of contention for the Pacific Nations Cup title, Tonga will go on to play Hong Kong in a World Cup qualifier on the Sunshine Coast in Australia next Saturday.
Victory in that match would book Tonga’s place in Pool B – alongside the Springboks, Ireland, Scotland and Romania – at next year’s tournament in France.
An unlikely defeat, however, would send them to November’s Final Qualification Tournament, where they would compete against three other nations for a spot in Pool C with the Wallabies, Wales, Fiji and Georgia.
Kick-off for Saturday’s clash against Australia A at Churchill Park in Lautoka is scheduled for 12pm kick-off local time.
Tonga team to face Australia A
1. David Lolohea
2. Sam Moli
3. Ben Tameifuna
4. Leva Fifita (c)
5. Sam Lousi
6. Tanginoa Halaifonua
7. Solomone Funaki
8. Lotu Inisi
9. Manu Paea
10. William Havili
11. Anzelo Tuitavuki
12. Fetuli Paea
13. Afusipa Taumoepeau
14. Tima Fainga’anuku
15. ‘Otumaka Mausia
16. Jay Fonokalafi
17. Fe’ao Fotuaika
18. Joe ‘Apikotoa
19. Sione Havili Talitui
20. Veikoso Poloniati
21. Aisea Halo
22. James Faiva
23. Telusa Veainu
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