Tonga has defeated Asia Champions Hong Kong 44-22 in the Asia / Pacific Play-off played in Australia at the Sunshine Coast Stadium to punch their ticket to Rugby World Cup 2023 in France.
For their ninth Rugby World Cup participation, Tonga is joining Romania, Ireland, Scotland and world champions South Africa in Pool B.
Tonga face Scotland
The ‘Ikale Tahi’ will begin their RWC 2023 campaign against Ireland in Nantes on 16 September, before playing Scotland in Nice on 24 September, South Africa in Marseille on 1 October and finishing against Romania in Lille on 8 October.
Tonga’s bid to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023 started just over a year ago when they were beaten by Samoa in both legs of their Oceania 1 play-off (42-13 and 37-15), to lose 79-28 on aggregate.
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The Pacific Islanders then bounced back with a 54-10 win against Cook Islands earning them the right to compete in the Asia/Pacific 1 play-off against Hong Kong on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.
Playing with a stiff breeze at their backs in the first half, Tonga threatened to pile on the points in the early stages but were left frustrated by two disallowed tries.
A knock-on at the base of the ruck by Takalua in the build-up to a short side play first saw Tima Fainga’anuku denied, and then the ever-dangerous Solomone Funaki had a try from a maul chalked off for obstruction.
At this stage, Hong Kong were under severe pressure, particularly at scrum time, and they conceded five penalties in the first 10 minutes.
For all their territory and possession, Tonga had yet to get on the scoreboard but another Hong Kong indiscretion was finally punished in the 11th minute, with the trusty left boot of fly-half William Havili supplying three points.
Strong carries from openside Funaki and inside centre Fetuli Paea laid the platform for the first try, which came after Takalua sniped over from close range, Havili converting to take Tonga’s lead into double figures.
Hong Kong finally managed to get their hands on the ball as the final quarter drew to a close and they scored a try with their very first visit inside the Tongan 22 when some slick passing put hooker Alex Post in at the corner.
Stung by the score, Tonga upped the tempo again and pressed for their second try. After good work by the forwards, Takalua went for the line himself and, at first glance, it appeared the scrum-half had lost control of the ball when he stretched for the line. However. after consultation with his TMO, referee Damon Murphy awarded the try and Havili added the extras for a 17-5 lead.
Hong Kong replied almost immediately, with a superb dummy and run by full-back Nate de Thierry putting them inside the Tongan 22 before Tom Hill took the ball on with a strong carry. Tonga were in retreat and when hooker Siua Maile illegally slowed the ball down at the ruck he was sent to the sin-bin. Gregor McNeish kicked the subsequent penalty.
Havili’s second penalty on the half-hour mark made it 20-8 and Tonga continued to be the most likely team to score despite being down to 14 men,
Sione Havili Talitui knocked on inches short and Maile’s bustling run down the left touchline, shortly after his reintroduction from the sin bin, came to nothing.
A third try for Takalua two minutes after the restart handed Tonga the perfect start to the second half, and the game looked up for Hong Kong when loosehead Siegfried Fisi’ihoi crashed over at the back of a maul with 47 minutes gone.
Tonga’s scrum dominance led to the next score, winger Telusa Veainu finishing off a set-piece move on the hour mark. Havili put the two previous misses behind him to slot the conversion.
By now play had really opened up and Veainu’s fellow winger, Anzelo Tuitavuki got in on the act with the best score of the match, a sizzling 65-metre effort with a goosestep thrown in for good measure.
With Havili landing his sixth kick of the match, the score was now 44-8 to Tonga and their supporters were in full voice.
Credit to Hong Kong, they didn’t let up and their efforts were finally rewarded in the 75th minute when Matt Worley did very well to gather in a crossfield kick from McNeish and score their second try.
Worley was then on the receiving end of another kick as the clock went red, the Bedford Blues flyer using his searing pace to benefit as the ball bounced kindly in his favour from Bryn Philips’ speculative punt downfield.
Tonga avoid Repechage
Hong Kong’s hopes of qualification are not over yet. As the Asia / Pacific runners-up, they will take part in the Final Qualification Tournament in November, a four-team round-robin competition with Portugal (Europe 3), Kenya (Africa 2) and USA (Americas 3). Dates, format and location of the Final Qualification Tournament will be announced on Monday 25 July.