Coach Toutai Kefu has revamped his Tongan side to take on Japan in the second round of the Pacific Nations Cup, which sees the return of regular captain Siale Piutau.
Piutau was absent from last weekend’s loss against Samoa, with Elvis Taione given the captain’s armband in his absence. Former Highlander and current Benetton representative Nasi Manu was originally named to captain last week’s side, but was invalided late in the week.
Taione will be given a rest this weekend. Instead, Sosefo Sakalia will pack down at hooker with Ma’afu Fia taking Ben Tameifuna’s spot on the tighthead.
Experienced lock Sitiveni ‘Steve’ Mafi returns to the team in the second row and will resume his regular partnership with Leva Fifita. Last week’s debutant, Sam Louisi, drops out of the 23.
The back row receives a big shake up with Ma’ama Vaipulu the only player retained from last week’s fixture. Vaipulu moves from 7 to 8, however, to accommodate for the return of Fotu Lokotui. Dan Faleafa comes in on the blindside flank for Zane Kapeli.
An entirely new halves pairing will be expected to guide the ‘Ikale Tahi around the park, with experienced halfback Sonatane Takulua and utility Latiume Fosita combining at 9 and 10.
Piutau’s return in the midfield pushes Mafoa’aeata Hingano out of the squad.
In the outside backs, former Sunwolves wing Viliami Lolohea comes onto the left wing and Nafi Tuitavake and Tevita Halaifonua swap positions, with Tuitavake moving onto the left wing.
There are no new debutants in this week’s squad, compared with the five that made their first appearances for Tonga last weekend. Kefu has put out a largely top team to take on Japan, who were the most impressive side in round one of the competition.
Tonga will be looking to bounce back after leading for most of last week’s match against Samoa but ultimately falling away in the final quarter.
The match kicks off in Osaka at 7:05PM JST.
Tonga: 15 Tevita Halaifonua, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Siale Piutau (c), 12 Cooper Vuna, 11 Viliami Lolohea, 10 Latiume Fosita, Sonatane Takulua, 8 Ma’ama Vaipulu, 7 Fotu Lokotui, 6 Dan Faleafa, 5 Leva Fifita, 4 Sitiveni Mafi, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Sosefo Sakalia, 1 Paea Fa?anunu.
Reserves: 16 Paula Ngauamo, 17 Toma Taufa, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Onehunga Havili, 20 Zane Kapeli, 21 Sione Vailanu, 22 Leon Fukofuka, 23 James Faiva.
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