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Nuku’alofa – November 5, 2021: 12.35pm (Nuku’alofa Times): Former Wallaby Lopeti Timani and Mate Ma’a Tonga winger Solomone Kata have been named in the ‘Ikale Tahi’s starting lineup against England for the Test match this weekend.

Head Coach Toutai Kefu drafed Timani andKata in this week and has named the player on the side of the scrum.

“We have a very experienced team with 3 new caps. This is another important step on our voyage to the RWC2023,” Kefu said from his Brisbane home.

“After a solid showing against England at the RWC in 2019, the whole squad is excited to play England in Twickenham.”

Lopeti Timani named at number 6. Photo: TRU

Toulon lock Timani, Perpignan midfielder Afusipa Taumoepeau and newly signed Moana Pasifika winger Kata have all been named for their first caps in the red jersey.

Kata was a late addition to the squad while Tongan officials worked to secure him an MIQ spot on his return to New Zealand.

The former Kiwis and Mate Ma’a Tonga rugby league international has spent the past two seasons with the Brumbies Super Rugby team but is now free to represent Tonga after being granted an early release from his contract.

“I had to get out before I could play for Tonga,” he said.

Mate Ma’a Tonga winger Solomone Kata has been named on the wing for the Test against Engand. Photo: TRU

“It’s pretty special. It’s a bit different to the Mate Ma’a Tonga team as well, different games, but we love it here. The boys have really welcomed me into the team, so I’m looking forward for preparing for a good game with them.”

The arrival of nine more players has bolstered the Tongan rugby camp ahead of this weekend’s test against England at Twickenham.

Props Ma’afu Fia and Siegfried Fisiihoi, hooker Paula Ngauamo, loose forward Sione Vailanu and fullback Telusa Veainu last played for the ‘Ikale Tahi in 2019, while Bordeaux prop Ben Tameifuna featured against Samoa and the Cook Islands in July.

Defence coach Grant Doorey told RNZI that the new additions have given everyone a boost.

“Those guys have done a good job in terms of lifting both the intensity and the expectation around the group this week,” he said.

“Nine quality players coming into any group would uplift the expectation and uplift the quality that you’ve got, and also the selection pressure around making sure you’re picking the right squad.

“All those things have been felt this week in the first couple of days and guys have lifted accordingly and put their best foot forward for selection, so it’s been great.”

Tonga was thrashed 60-14 by Scotland in their opening tour match in Edinburgh last weekend, in a game that was played outside the international window.

Despite the lopsided score line, Doorey said the ‘Ikale Tahi did have some good moments in a match where eight players made their test debut.

“We started well, but we had too many large blocks of time where we conceded easy points. So that 15 minutes before half-time we conceded three tries… at 21-9 we still felt like we were in the game, and then those couple of quick scores just before half-time took a little bit of the wind out of the sails.

“But then we had a really good period from 40-65 minutes where we didn’t concede any points, so we showed some moments in the game where we could compete. But we need those moments to be longer…and the boys felt the speed of the game, to be honest.”

‘Ikale Tahi training this week. Photo: Lucas Sherrer Production

Tonga head coach Toutai Kefu was also an interested observer at the weekend from his home in Brisbane.

“I’m looking after the defence so he sort of challenged me to get my stuff right sometimes,” Doorey explained.

“When you’re trying to look at the big picture you forget the detail – so just stepping back and making sure I nail my role as the defence coach this week, so there’s more clarity going into the game so we can build some pressure without the ball. That will help us build into the game with confidence against England.”

The ‘Ikale Tahi will need to get up to speed quickly if they’re to hold their own against an England team playing in front of a sold out crowd of 82,000.

Doorey was a part of the Tongan coaching staff when the teams last squared off in pool play at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but said a lot had changed in two years.

“Ultimately it’s a different squad – a very different England squad as well,” he said.

“The group that we had last week had never played together, have trained together for three sessions in the lead-up to a test match against Scotland. There’s 50,000 people in a stadium, so there’s significantly more pressure than a lot of them have been used to previously.

“It’s about combinations, connections and the confidence that you get from that, so we’ve had to really focus in on simplifying those combinations and connections this week,” Doorey added.

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