Tonga will be aiming for a maiden Rugby World Cup quarter-final appearance in 2015 after falling agonisingly short four years ago. The Tongans are captained by Nili Otai and coached by Mana Otai and earned automatic qualification to this tournament after they finished in the top three places in their pool at the last showdown when they were narrowly beaten to the knockout stage by France, whom they actually beat in the round robin phase. The Pacific Island nation go by the moniker Ikale Tahi or Sea Eagles and the national union was formed in 1923 with the Islanders drawing their first ever Test series the next year against fellow Pacific Islanders Fiji. Since then they have gone on to play 241 matches winning 90 of them.
Having played in six World Cups they are no strangers to the pressures of rugby’s top honor. However the world number 11 side (as at 3 September 2015) has never progressed past the group stages. Looking ahead to the tournament that kicks off next week, they find themselves in Pool C alongside the defending champions New Zealand, Argentina, Georgia and Namibia. Otai has picked a squad of 31 players including seven World Cup debutants.
Many of the islanders ply their trade outside of their country of birth with the Sea Eagles boasting players who play in some of the top rugby leagues around the world. A number of the squad pull on the Cherry and White of Gloucester including David Halaifonua and Sione Kalamafoni. Their experience playing in the northern hemisphere will help their team adjust to the conditions. They will be going into battle for the first time at the tournament and performing their pre-game war cry the Sipi Tau, similar to the All Blacks’ haka, on the European continent on 19 September 2015 against the Georgians.
Tonga RWC 2015 squad:
Tevita Mailau, Alisona Taumalolo, Soane Tonga’uiha, Halani Aulika, Sila Puafisi, Elvis Taione, Paula Ngauamo, Aleki Lutui, Tukulua Lokotui, Joseph Tuineau, Steve Mafi, Opeti Fonua, Hale T-Pole, Nili Latu, Jack Ram, Viliami Ma’afu, Sione Kalamafoni, Sonatane Takulua, Samisoni Fisilau, Sosefo Ma’ake, Kurt Morath, Latiume Fosita, Sione Piukala, Siale Piutau, Viliame Tahitu’a, Fetu’u Vainikolo, Telusa Veainu, Tevita Halaifonua, William Helu, Vungakoto Lilo.