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Tonga name nine debutants in starting team to take on All Blacks

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by World Rugby - Handout/World Rugby via Getty Images)

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Tonga have named nine debutants in their starting side to face the All Blacks at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Saturday.

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With a further four uncapped players on the bench, ‘Ikale Tahi head coach Toutai Kefu has named a vastly inexperienced team to play in their first test match since the 2019 World Cup.

Of the new caps in the starting lineup, six have been named in the forward pack, with the only capped players being veteran tighthead prop Sila Puafisi and Chiefs flanker Zane Kapeli, who will start at lock.

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Joining Puafisi in the front row are loosehead prop Duke Nginingini, who plays for Karaka in the Counties Manukau club competition and made the last of his four NPC appearances for Waikato in 2017, and Tasman hooker Sam Moli, the younger brother of four-test All Blacks prop Atu.

In the second row, Kapeli will be partnered by Don Lolo, who plays for Taieri in the Dunedin club competition and hasn’t played first-class rugby since his Heartland Championship days with North Otago and South Canterbury four years ago.

The loose forwards are made up entirely of uncapped players, with blindside flanker Mateaki Kafatolu the most experienced of the back row trio after four seasons with Wellington and a brief spell with the Sunwolves last year.

He will be joined by Hawke’s Bay openside flanker Solomone Funaki, who served as injury cover for the Highlanders this year, and Auckland utility forward Sione Tuipulotu.

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With only three debutants, the backline, spearheaded by captain and Toulon halfback Sonatane Takulua, offers a bit more experience.

Takulua, who paid for his own way to New Zealand from France at the end of the Top 14 season, will be paired in the halves by nine-test Counties Manukau utility back Kalione Hala.

Two rookies will make up the midfield combo as Counties Manukau’s Nikolai Foliaki and North Harbour’s Fine Inisi will make their test debuts from the No. 12 and No. 13 jerseys, respectively.

The outside backs, meanwhile, will feature just one debutant, with prolific former Sunwolves winger Hosea Saumaki, who now plays for the Canon Eagles in the Top League, set for his long-awaited test debut on the right wing.

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Saumaki will be joined in the back three by Southland and former New Zealand U20 wing Penikolo Latu and Italian-based first-five-turned-fullback James Faiva.

On the pine, former Waikato and New Zealand U20 prop Tau Koloamatangi is one of the three reserve front rowers, as is three-test Manawatu hooker Siua Maile and ex-Reds prop Jethro Felemi, who now plays for GPS in the Queensland club competition.

27-year-old lock Harrison Mataele, who is a personal trainer by trade and only started playing for Grammar TEC in Auckland’s club competition last year after quitting rugby due to injuries, has also been named on the bench for his test debut.

Viliame Taulani, who made his debut for the Chiefs this year after being called into the squad as injury cover, is also in line for his first appearance for Tonga after being named as one of two loose forward reserves.

The other is former Highlanders, Crusaders, Edinburgh and Benetton Treviso stalwart Nasi Manu, who will act as one of the most experienced players in the match day side.

The inclusion of both Taulani and Manu means Kefu has opted for just two backline reserves, one of which is ex-Crusaders and New Zealand U20 halfback Leon Fukofuka, who now plays for the Hunter Wildfires in Sydney’s Shute Shield club competition.

The other backline reserve is uncapped wing Walter Fifita, who made his first three first-class appearances for North Harbour during last year’s NPC.

The All Blacks will name their side to face ‘Ikale Tahi on Thursday, with the match scheduled to kick-off at 7:05pm Saturday NZT.

‘Ikale Tahi team to play All Blacks on Saturday

1. Duke Nginingini*
2. Sam Moli*
3. Sila Puafisi
4. Don Lolo*
5. Zane Kapeli
6. Mateaki Kafatolu*
7. Solomone Funaki*
8. Sione Tuipulotu*
9. Sonatane Takulua (c)
10. Kalione Hala
11. Penikolo Latu
12. Nikolai Foliaki*
13. Fine Inisi*
14. Hosea Saumaki*
15. James Faiva

Reserves:

16. Siua Maile
17. Jethro Felemi*
18. Tau Koloamatangi*
19. Harrison Mataele*
20. Viliame Taulani*
21. Nasi Manu
22. Leon Fukofuka
23. Walter Fifita*

* – denotes new cap

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Tonga name nine debutants in starting team to take on All Blacks

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