Attack coach Scott Wisemantel believes that the RFU should not view a tour match against the impoverished Islanders – whose population is a mere 108,000 – as beneath them.
For the past two years, Wisemantel has overseen the Pacific combine, a programme that identifies talent in Tonga, Fiji and Samoa with the ambition of securing their emerging stars professional contracts.
England have never played a Test in Tonga or Samoa and have only appeared in Fiji on two occasions. “There’s no reason you couldn’t go there. Other teams have been there – Italy did it a few years ago,” Wisemantel said.
“I don’t think that just because it’s England you can think you’re above everyone else. There’s no reason you can’t go there, it’s just what you tack on along the way. If you tack on a game against Australia or New Zealand or whoever, then you make it viable as a tour. But it’s a long way to go.
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“Tonga do need that competition. They need to play consistently against the best. The problem is the revenue. Whether it can be done financially, that’s the biggest issue. In regard to that, potentially a solution is that in the November window, the Pacific nations get to play one of the big dogs at one of the big stadiums and they get a piece of the pie.”
Wisemantel, who is expected to leave his post after the World Cup, insists his World Rugby-funded work in Fiji where the combine is held is undertaken in challenging circumstances.
“The facilities there are sparse. You’ve got hit shells, balls, cones, all the testing equipment to do their S&C testing, but outside that it is bibs, maybe a few agility poles,” he said.
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“That’s it. It’s very raw. But from a personal point of view, it’s deeply rewarding. You see a guy come in at the start of the week from a village and then at the end of the week he’s off to play professional rugby. It’s brilliant.”
England launch their World Cup as overwhelming favourites to make a triumphant start to Japan 2019, but Wisemantel’s experience has demonstrated what to expect at the Sapporo Dome.
“They’re great rugby players because they’re built for it! Historically it’s called the Kingdom of Tonga for a reason – they’ve never been defeated in war,” he said. “They’ve gone to other islands and smashed them up, but they’ve never been smashed up and they’re very proud of that.
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“You speak to a Tongan and you talk about the country and you say ‘so you’re from Tonga’. Occasionally they’ll say ‘I’m from the Kingdom of Tonga’ and there’s a reason for it. They’re quite fierce in that regard.”
England’s low key camp in Miyazaki ends on Wednesday when they will head to Sapporo with Jones naming his team the following day. Only wing Jack Nowell and prop Mako Vunipola are definitively unavailable for selection.
– Press Association
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