Nuku’alofa – October 29, 2021: 11.15am (Nuku’alofa Times): Six new debutants will get to don the Ikale Tahi jersey against Scotland as Tonga kicks off her European Rugby Tour at Murrayfield around 2.30am early on Sunday morning (Tonga Time).
Loni Uhila, Maile Ngauamo, Setefano Funaki, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Atunaisa Manu and Vaea Vaea have been named in the starting lineup. Two others are likely to run off the bench.
Scotland have also named some new caps in their starting XV.
The Ikale Tahi management have named halfback Sonatane Takulua as captain for the Test.
Grenoble prop Toma’akino Taufa and Western Sydney first five Navarre Haisila are also poised to make their test debut off the bench.
Tonga only had 27 players in camp this week, because the test is being played outside the international window.
Defence coach Grant Doorey told RNZI that made the selection process pretty straight forward.
“Three days ago we had 21 players here so almost by elimination early in the week we had to prioritise some guys getting learning early in the week,” he said.
“So the people who have been here a little bit longer in terms of their learning and getting to understand game plans and lineout calls and structures etc they’ve been prioritised to get an opportunity this week.”
Captain Sonatane Takulua is one of just three players in the starting fifteen who featured in the July internationals against Samoa and the Cook Islands, alongside left winger Walter Fifita and fullback James Faiva.
The Toulon number nine is the most experienced squad member with 42 test caps, and will renew his partnership in the halves with 38-cap veteran Kurth Morath, who last played for Tonga in their Rugby World Cup opener against England two years ago.
“With a lot of new caps you lean probably a little bit more on the guys with experience,” Doorey explained.
“Around the axis of your team you need experience so the nine and ten guys who will be driving us around the field we will expect them to be taking some responsibility and getting us to play the game in the right areas of the field and making the right decisions under pressure.
“So that the younger guys can think about their roles and just get out there and express themselves and be physical.”
Grant Doorey is leading the ‘Ikale Tahi coaching group on tour in the absence of Toutai Kefu, who remains involved from afar but has stayed home in Brisbane to continue his recovery from a home invasion attack in August.
Cardiff attack coach Richie Rees, former Fiji head coach John McKee and former Connacht forwards coach Jimmy Duffy have also been drafted in to help and Doorey admitted there was a lot of new faces to get used to.
“It feels like a very new team and then you take into consideration that we’ve got a whole new coaching group, medical group, the analysis group, the wider logistics support group,” he said.
“Everyone is new except for a couple of key staff and it takes time to create those bonds and connections but we’re working really hard on doing that.”
The squad is also operating in a bubble environment in Edinburgh because of Covid-19 restrictions.
“We’re not allowed in or out of the hotel except for training,” he said.
“We’re masked up in common areas in the hotel – so in our team rooms and bedrooms we don’t have to wear masks but everywhere else we do, and to or from training on the bus only and we can walk back from the gym that’s very nearby. That pretty much the extent of our tourism here in Edinburgh so far is a 500 metre walk between here and the gym.”
Tonga will also face England, the French Barbarians and Romania over the next few weeks.
The match will kick-off at 2.30pm on Saturday, 30 October at BT Murrayfield (Scotland Time). Referee Nic Berry, assistant refs Damon Murphy and Angus Gardner and TMO Brett Cronan will take charge of the game.
The teams: Scotland: Darcy Graham; Kyle Steyn, Sione Tuipulotu, Sam Johnson, Rufus McLean; Blair Kinghorn, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Jamie Hodgson, Rob Harley, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson. Replacements: Stuart McInally, Jamie Bhatti, Oli Kebble, Marshall Sykes, Luke Crosbie, Nick Haining, Jamie Dobie, Ross Thompson.
Tonga: James Faiva; Atunaisa Manu, Mailetoa Hingano, Vaea Vaea, Walter Fifita; Kurt Morath, Sonatane Takulua (captain); Loni Uhila, Maile Ngauamo, David Lolohea, Halaleva Fifita, Setofano Funaki, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Fotu Lokotui, Valentino Mapapalangi.
Replacements: Suia Maile, Jethro Felemi, Toma Taufa, Dan Faleafa, Onehunga Havili, Mateaki Kafatolu, Aisea Halo, Navarre Haisila.