Rugby World Cup 2011: New Zealand vs Tonga Preview
Rugby World Cup 2011 is finally here.
Nearly six years since New Zealand were confirmed as hosts, the seventh World Cup of rugby is now only one day away.
As the host nation, the All Blacks will be given the honour of opening the tournament against Pacific Island neighbours Tonga at Eden Park tomorrow night. Kickoff is at 8.30pm after the opening ceremony.
The $1.65 pre-tournament favourites will be keen to get out on the park and get the show underway after the long build up, and they have named a somewhat surprising lineup that does not include test regulars Mils Muliaina, Conrad Smith and Keven Mealamu.
Hawke’s Bay fullback, Israel Dagg, is a surprise choice at fullback over 98-test veteran Muliaina, while coach Graham Henry appears unsettled on his starting wing combination, giving utility backs Richard Kahui and Isaia Toeava the first chance out wide.
The most exciting selection though, is the giant midfield combination of Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams, which will be watched with keen interest to see what the talented pair can produce together.
The forwards have a more settled look with Victor Vito taking over from the injured Kieran Read at No. 8, while backup hooker Andrew Hore gets an early chance to impress in the tournament.
They have been talking a big game in the media all week with their captain Finau Maka even claiming most of his forward pack would make the All Black side.
The form of ‘Ikale Tahi’ (Sea Eagles) is decent after a successful Pacific Nations Cup campaign that included wins over Samoa and Fiji. They have nothing to lose and, judging by their massive welcome earlier this week at Auckland Airport, they will have plenty of local support and could be forgiven for thinking they are back in Nuku’alofa.
Players to watch for Tonga are 130kg prop Soane Tonga'uiha, a former New Zealand age group representative, and speedy winger Viliami Iongi, who has been Tonga’s find of the international season.
As has often been the case with Tonga, and indeed all the Pacific Island sides, they can match it with the best then run out of steam late in the game.
These days, however, they are a more professional outfit with most of their players playing full time rugby in Australasia, Japan and Europe, so it should not be an excuse this time around.
The Tongans will play physical and won’t take a backwards step, while the All Blacks main goal will be to play to their planned structures and keep control of the ball. The massive nature of the occasion will lift Tonga and ensure it is not all one way traffic. It promises to be an exciting match that will hopefully set the tone for the rest of the World Cup.
Prediction: 55-10 to New Zealand.
New Zealand: Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (c), Victor Vito, Jimmy Cowan, Daniel Carter, Isaia Toeava, Sonny Bill Williams, Ma’a Nonu, Richard Kahui, Israel Dagg. Replacements: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Anthony Boric, Sam Whitelock, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Cory Jane.
Tonga: Soane Tonga'uiha, Aleki Lutui, Taufa'ao Filise, Paino Hehea, Joseph Tuineau, Sione Kalamafoni, Finau Maka (c), Viliami Ma'afu, Taniela Moa, Kurt Morath, Siale Piutau, Andre Ma'ilei, Sukanaivalu Hufanga, Viliame Iongi, Vungakoto Lilo. Replacements: Ephraim Taukafa, Alisona Taumalolo, Kisi Pulu, Sione Timani, Samiu Vahafolau, Samisoni Fisilau, Aviate Fatafehi.
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