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Cancer survivor Nasi Manu headlines Tonga World Cup squad

Nasi Manu. Photo / Getty Images

Three-test loose forward Nasi Manu has completed a remarkable comeback from testicular cancer to be named in Tonga’s 31-man World Cup squad.

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The 30-year-old was diagnosed with the illness in October last year, ruling him out of action for the entire 2018-19 Pro14 season with Italian club Benetton Treviso as he received chemotherapy treatment.

However, the former Highlanders co-captain, who helped lead the side to their maiden Super Rugby title in 2015, found out he was cancer-free in June.

He was subsequently named in Toutai Kefu’s 31-man Tonga side for the Pacific Nations Cup, and was named as captain for their tournament opener against Samoa in July.

Manu was a late omission from the match day team, though, as a pectoral injury robbed him of his first appearance for the ‘Ikale Tahi since last June.

He hasn’t featured for the national side since then, but his inclusion in the World Cup squad after a year without any game time is indicative of the influence and importance he has within Kefu’s side.

Manu is accompanied by a raft of experienced heads that will be travelling to Japan for rugby’s global showpiece event, including skipper Siale Piutau, Racing 92 prop Ben Tameifuna, ex-Wallaby Cooper Vuna, Newcastle Falcons star Sonatane Takulua, returning speedster Telusa Veainu and veteran playmaker Kurt Morath.

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It’s that experience that Kefu will be calling upon as he eyes a quarter-final berth, something of which Tonga has never achieved before.

The former Wallabies No. 8, who was part of the 1999 World Cup-winning side, is pushing for a place in the last eight, even with tier one heavyweights England, Argentina and France, plus the USA, in their group, which has been labelled as the ‘Pool of Death’.

“I’m fixated on making the play-offs,” Kefu said.

“We need to win three games for that.

“We’re in a tough pool, there’s no doubt about it. We just need to get together and believe in what we’re doing and believe that we can make it. And I certainly think we can.”

Even with some sketchy results in the lead-up to the tournament, including losses to Samoa and Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup and a 29-19 defeat to Fiji at Eden Park on Saturday, Kefu has plenty of belief in his side.

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“We’re confident in the way we’re going at the moment,” Kefu said.

“Even though we had a loss last week [29-19 against Fiji] there’s some really really good stuff that we did. And we’ve come a long way just in the two weeks we’ve had since the Pacific Nation Cup.”

Tonga kick-off their World Cup campaign against England at Sapporo on September 22.

Tonga World Cup squad:

Forwards: Siegfried Fisiihoi (Stade Francais), Vunipola Fifita (Brumbies), Latu Talakai (Eastwood), Paula Ngauamo (Agen), Sosefo Sakalia (Asia Pacific Dragons), Siua Maile (Shirley RFC)*, Siua Halanukonuka (Glasgow Warriors), Ma’afu Fia (Ospreys), Ben Tameifuna (Racing 92), Sam Lousi (Scarlets), Leva Fifita (Grenoble), Steve Mafi (Castres), Sione Kalamafoni (Leicester Tigers), Maama Vaipulu (Castres), Fotu Lokotui (Kagifa Samoa), Zane Kapeli (Bay of Plenty), Dan Faleafa (Coventry), Nasi Manu (Benetton Treviso).

Backs: Sonatane Takulua (Newcastle Falcons), Leon Fukofuka (Kagifa Samoa), Samisoni Fisilau (Auckland Marist), Kurt Morath (Doncaster Knights), James Faiva (El Salvador), Siale Piutau (Bristol), Malietoa Hingano (Stade Francais), Nafi Tuitavake (Northampton Saints), Atieli Pakalani (Eastwood), David Halaifonua (Coventry), Viliami Lolohea (Papatoetoe), Cooper Vuna (Bath), Telusa Veainu (Leicester Tigers).

* – denotes new cap

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finn 8 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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