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Toutai Kefu: 'Two simple things' must happen for Tonga to improve

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Ramos/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Toutai Kefu has signed off on his seven-year stint in charge of Tonga with a two-fold plea to the powers that be for the future: the provision of more preparation time together and more games. Beaten by tier-one trio Ireland, Scotland, and South Africa, the Pacific Islanders signed off on their France 2023 campaign with a 45-24 win over Romania in Lille.


The match was the last in charge for the former Wallabies No8, a 1999 World Cup winner as a player who took over the Tongans in May 2016, leading them to one win in four at the 2019 finals, an outcome that has now been repeated at their latest finals appearance.

Tonga gained much kudos for the manner of the very determined display in their third match against the Springboks last weekend, and they carried that momentum into their final outing to eventually secure a win that featured seven tries, including two for Solomone Kata.

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Asked at his final post-match briefing in charge of Tonga what needed to happen for them to further increase their level of competitiveness in the future, Kefu suggested: “There are two simple things, we get to spend more time together, more preparation time, and the other one is playing more competitive games.

“We play six games a year and maybe one or two tier-one games in that block. What do the tier-one teams play? They play more than 15, 20. It’s hard to compete against teams who are really well-oiled machines.

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“My players come from 20 plus programmes throughout Top 14, Pro D2, the Premiership, URC, even second division in Japan, Super Rugby, Mitre Cup. I have got players scattered all over those programmes. You look at Ireland, 95 per cent of them come from one team [Leinster].

“So I need time to get my boys aligned on the same page. We need more games, simple as that. How they do it, that’s the question. I don’t know how they do it. International calendar is tough to rejig. They have proposed something for the next coming years. I don’t know the full details of that but they are the two simple things that the tier two teams need.”


Reflecting on the outcome of playing four matches in successive weekends, the initial three against the teams that were ranked one, two, and five in the world coming into the tournament, Kefu surmised: “Disappointing in terms of the results. I come away with maybe a 40 per cent win/loss record. My team is not geared up to win because of the system we are in.

“I have to decide what winning looks like when you are not winning. That means building relationships with players and coaching staff. I have been able to build capacity and capability within the local staff so they are better at the end of each campaign and I have been able to give the players that come in a real good experience.

“The best thing about international rugby is still touring together so being able to give those guys a bloody good experience – even though they have lost three games they have had the time of their lives and to coach them has been a pleasure.”

What’s next for Kefu in rugby? “I’m going to take some time off first. I’d love to stay in coaching, there might be some coaching roles when I head back (to Australia) in schools and clubs but I haven’t looked that far yet.”


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finn 5 hours ago
Why the world needs a reverse Lions tour

I think there’s a lot of reasons this wouldn’t work, but if we’re just proposing fun things how about a “World Series” held the june/july following a world cup. The teams competing each four years would be: the current world champions The Pacific Islands The British & Irish Lions The World XV Barbarians FC to ensure all teams are fairly evenly matched, the current world champions would name their squad first; then The Pacific Islands would name next, and would be able to select any pacific qualified players not selected by the world champions, including players already “captured” by non-pacific nations who would otherwise have been eligible for selection (eg. Bundee Aki); the Lions would select next; and then The World XV and Barbarians FC would be left to fight over anyone not selected. Some people will point out that 5 teams is too many for a mid-year round robin, particularly as it would be nice to have a final as well; and they would be right! But because we’re just having fun here we’re going to innovate an entirely new format for rugby, where the round robin is played in one stadium over the course of one day, with each game lasting just 40 minutes with no half time or change of ends. The round robin decides the seedings for the knockouts, which are contested by all 5 teams in one stadium over the course of one day, according to the following schedule: Knockout Round 1: seed 5 v seed 4 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Quarter Final: winner of Round 1 v seed 3 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Semi Final: winner of Quarter Final v seed 2 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Final: winner of Semi Final v seed 1 (played as a standard 80 minute rugby match) for the round robin, teams would name a 15 man starting lineup and a 16 man bench. Substitutions during games can only be made for injuries, but any number of substitutions can be made between games. The same rules apply for the finals, except that we return to having a regular 8 man bench, and would allow substitutions as normal during the 80 minute final.

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Simon 7 hours ago
Is the Six Nations balance of power shifting?

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42 Go to comments
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