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Stormers win battle of attrition

Planet Rugby

02nd April 2011 15:39

schalk burger stormers

Stormers score: Schalk Burger



It certainly wasn't a classic, but the Stormers maintained their unbeaten record with a 16-6 victory over the Sharks at Kings Park on Saturday.

 

 

The visitors were quick out of the blocks, with Schalk Burger making an immediate impact on his return from injury. Indeed, it was the Stormers skipper who scored his team's first try, although the hard work was done by his Bok mate, Jaque Fourie.

 

Spotting a half-gap and a prop in front of him, Fourie accelerated into space, shrugging off tacklers before he was brought down just short of the line. Burger was on hand to pick up from the base of the ruck and dive over.

 

The Stormers showed why they have the best defence in the competition, standing firm against the Sharks onslaught, successfully disrupting the opposition's flow of possession and as a result preventing the hosts from building sufficient forward momentum.

 

The Sharks did, however, make two clean breaks through the Stormers defence during the first forty. First, Charl McLeod found himself in space but as Odwa Ndungane rushed up in support the scrum-half slipped as he looked to make further advantage.

 

Meyer Bosman too found plenty of room to move down the centre of the field, but his grubber ahead was collected by Gio Aplon and the Stormers full-back was able to secure possession.

 

Peter Grant and Jacques-Louis Potgieter traded penalties but the Sharks pivot missed two kickable efforts too. On one such occasion, the ball rebounded off the post and Bismarck du Plessis was alert to the opportunity, running in on the angle only to drop the ball with the try-line beckoning.

 

Du Plessis' error summed up much of the Sharks' night, with execution at key moments lacking.

 

Sloppy in the first-half, they only got worse in the second-half as it began to rain.

 

It took fifteen minutes for either side to get onto the board after the break, with Grant maintaining his perfect kicking record with a penalty straight in front after Tendai Mtawarira had been penalised for off-side at the ruck.

 

Potgieter's frailties from the kicking tee prevented his side from getting a valuable bonus point and the fly-half's poor night continued when he fumbled the ball five metres from the line as the Sharks looked to notch up a late try.

 

Jacques Botes was the man who provided the spark for the home side, with the replacement flank off-loading to Bosman. First John Smit made the wrong decision in picking and driving before Potgieter went on his own and lost possession.

 

The Stormers must be credited for their dedicated defence; despite a number of stars they may not win games with the flair that the likes of the Crusaders do, but a win is a win and this victory, against a local rival, is a key one.

 

The scorers:

 

For the Sharks:
Penalty: Potgieter 2

 

For the Stormers:
Try: Burger
Conversion: Grant
Penalty: Grant 3

 

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, (c), 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.

 

Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean De Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermuelen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 CJ Van Der Linde, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nick Koster, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Gary Van Aswegen, 22 Juan De Jongh.

 

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)

Fiji have been knocked out by South Africa in the Cup Quarterfinals in Adelaide.

 

South Africa 24 - Fiji 12

 

Preview: New Zealand v Australia

05th August 2011 07:17

 

The Bledisloe Cup: Round One

 

Is this a dress rehearsal for the World Cup final on October 23? Many would respond, yes, going off form heading into this Auckland clash on Saturday.

 

 

New Zealand were mesmeric against the Boks last week as the guile of Dan Carter and return to form of Cory Jane saw them cruise to victory.

 

Australia had - not in such a slick style - done something similar to South Africa a week before that. And with the 2011 World Cup draw as it is, the likelihood of these two standing in front of each other for Webb Ellis glory seems a strong possibility. Then again, upsets could happen.

 

What is interesting in the lead-up to the global showpiece though is that we haven't heard the usual, 'the All Blacks have peaked too soon' argument. So has Graham Henry finally got the timing right to claim the trophy that's eluded them for 24 years? They certainly have a squad to do it.

 

This week they make seven changes but if anything it looks a stronger XV. Sitiveni Sivivatu and Hosea Gear will bring something different to that of Cory Jane and Zac Guildford, which is yet another example of the All Blacks having a few plans carefully tucked under their sleeve. It is also worth noting the change made in the closing stages against South Africa, when Colin Slade emerged at 10, thus pushing Dan Cater to 12. That also worked very well, so with Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith strong options, a repeat of 2003 and 2007 when they thrust a full-back into the number 13 jersey is unlikely.

 

Depth is apparent all over the field in truth, with the likes of Liam Messam and Adam Thomson expected to push hard for Jerome Kaino's jersey. Lock and prop were once two areas of mini concern, but no more as the Franks brothers and Ali Williams' return to fitness eases any worries. Also fascinating is that the All Blacks this week have an average age of 29, while only six of these starting Wallabies were born when Oz last won in Auckland a quarter of a century ago. Along with age, this is New Zealand's most experienced team in 108 years as they look to respond following last year's 26-24 defeat in Hong Kong.

 

Psychological leg-ups and extra belief from that win and a possible one on Saturday cannot be downplayed - England's tour victories in New Zealand and Australia in July 2003 spring to mind. So if Australia can claim back-to-back wins before Brisbane, they can be delighted.

 

"Any occasion against the All Blacks is significant, to play them at Eden Park doubly so," explained the strangely under-pressure Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans.

 

"Clearly there's going to be a lot of scrutiny and a lot of interest around this game but from a players' perspective it is like any other. It's 80 minutes long, the whistle will blow, they'll get on with it and it should be a great contest."

 

Of that there is no doubt Mr Deans and one that may lead to some déjà vu later in October when the Bledisloe Cup will be joined on the sidelines by the coveted Webb Ellis trophy.

 

Ones to watch:

 

For New Zealand: Some believe that Chiefs winger Sitiveni Sivivatu endured a poor Super Rugby season and is unlikely to make New Zealand's World Cup line-up. I would have to disagree as the veteran showed, particularly towards the end of the season, that he still has the skills to be a useful weapon in the All Black arsenal. This week Cory Jane and Zac Guildford sit out for a powerful double act of Sivivatu and Hosea Gear, which shows yet another string to Graham Henry's bow going into September and October. A big game here from both guys manning the wings and Israel Dagg and Isaia Toeava will have a lot of work to do. Also keep an eye on returning forwards Brad Thorn and Keven Mealamu.

 

For Australia: With all due respect to South Africa, the opponents standing in front of the Wallabies in this Tri-Nations fixture will pose a greater threat than the second-string who were wearing green and gold in Sydney. Digby Ioane will not be given the same amount of freedom he has been getting of late so it will be interesting to see how he fronts up when the heat is on. Elsewhere and another strong performance from Pat McCabe could cement his spot at number 12 ahead of Matt Giteau while loosehead prop Sekope Kepu vitally needs to put in another stellar performance like the one he did against the Springboks.

 

Head-to-head: And so they meet again. David Pocock has arguably gotten the better of Richie McCaw in their recent meetings and if he can do the same in Auckland on Saturday, then a marker will have been firmly planted ahead of the World Cup. A personal victory will give both he and the Wallabies an extra dose belief and in doing so sew a few seeds of doubt into McCaw and his team-mates' thinking. The battle at number ten between in-form duo Dan Carter and Quade Cooper won't be too hard on the eyes either.

 

Prediction: An away victory here would be a huge psychological boost for Australia, but I can't see it happening. The ABs have too much, notably on the bench. New Zealand by 7!

 

Tri-Nations betting odds.

 

The teams:

 

New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Samuel Whitelock, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.

 

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (c), 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Dan Vickerman, 19 Scott Higginbotham, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Anthony Fainga'a, 22 Lachie Turner.

 

Date: Saturday, 6 August
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Glen Jackson

 

Boks recall big guns for home Tests

05th August 2011 14:29

 

Fighting fit: Victor Matfield

 

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers on Friday named a 24-man squad for the home leg of the Tri-Nations series.

 

 

The squad features several players returning from the much-talked-about injury rehabilitation camp in Rustenberg.

 

Six players remain on the injured list and are unavailable for selection, although three of them will join the squad in Durban to continue their rehabilitation.

 

The Springboks play Australia at Kings Park on August 13 before meeting New Zealand at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth a week later.

 

Nine of the players who appeared in the away leg of the Series have been retained, led by captain John Smit.

 

"We still have a number of injury concerns but the majority of the players who were in rehabilitation have recovered well and are now available for selection," said De Villiers.

 

Schalk Burger (hand), Juan Smith (Achilles) and Willem Alberts (shoulder) will be part of the squad but are not fit enough to be in contention for the match against Australia, said De Villiers. A fourth looseforward - Heinrich Brüssow - would be assessed with a view to joining the squad, following his planned appearance for the Free State Cheetahs in the Currie Cup on Saturday.

Lock forward Johann Muller remains on the injured list and with Andries Bekker ruled out of the Rugby World Cup tournament, Test newcomer Gerhard Mostert is named in the squad. The 26-year-old made his Test debut against New Zealand a fortnight ago.

"It's very satisfying to see that Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha have now largely overcome their injuries but they still require management as we have a shortage of fit locks at the moment," said de Villiers.

"We also have injury problems among the looseforwards but I am hopeful that all of the four who are not currently in the playing squad will be ready for selection by the time of the World Cup."

 

South Africa Tri-Nations home leg squad:

 

Backs: Gio Aplon, Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Morne Steyn, Butch James, Ruan Pienaar, Fourie du Preez, Francois Hougaard.

 

Forwards: Pierre Spies, Jean Deysel, Danie Rossouw, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield Gerhard Mostert, John Smit (captain), Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Gurthrö Steenkamp, CJ van der Linde

 

Players not considered for selection due to injury were: Schalk Burger (hand), Juan Smith (Achilles), Andries Bekker (ankle), Willem Alberts (shoulder), Johann Muller (hamstring) and Duane Vermeulen (knee).

 

Super Cooper versus square Dan

 

WITHOUT a football in the equation, there aren't many similarities between Dan Carter and Quade Cooper.

One is so humble he's bordering on shy, and the other is Cooper.

One used to lead a pretty loose life and the other is Carter.

In fact, ask the only man who has played with both Bledisloe Cup number 10s for anything that links Carter and Cooper, and Daniel Braid pauses for a long time.

"Well, not really. They are quite different characters," Braid says.

Having spent time in the heat of battle with both superstars, Kiwi flanker Braid is in a unique position to give insight into what makes the Wallabies and All Blacks five-eighths tick. Braid began playing with Carter in the New Zealand Colts team and later appeared in all but one of his six Tests with the Crusaders playmaker.

 

He teamed with Cooper as the marquee player for Queensland in 2009 and 2010, a time that was pivotal in the 23-year-old's career.

"Dessie (Carter) is a very humble guy, he has always just got on with things pretty quietly," Braid said in Auckland yesterday.

"Quade, well, I wouldn't call him as humble as Dessie. Quade has a bit more flair, not over the top or anything - but, yeah, he has that confidence."

Braid watched with mixed emotions as the Reds stormed to the 2011 title, having had to beat his Auckland Blues team in the semi-finals to get there.

But there was also some pride in their achievement and satisfaction in seeing Cooper's continued development. When Braid was signed by Phil Mooney and arrived at Ballymore in 2009, the Reds were near-last, near-broke and the young five-eighth was spinning his wheels wildly.

"(Cooper) was trying too hard - he pushed it too hard, trying to make big plays," Braid said. "Off the field he was ... well, he was pretty loose, to be honest with you.

"But he really matured within the space of a year. The difference between 2009 and 2010 seasons was huge. Off the field, he settled down and he has made huge strides. He consolidated his game. He kept his flair, he kept his step, and the passes, but he just dialled it back. He learned how to play the percentages, as well, and found the confidence in his teammates to play a role and not always have to do everything."

Carter is Carter, says Braid. He is so supremely gifted he makes the difficult look easy and makes the right decisions so often it's frequently forgotten how many options first raced through the five-eighth's brain in a second.

"He is brilliant at sizing things up, and the percentages, and pulling the right rope," Braid says.

"He doesn't have a flashy step or anything but Dan's flair is probably underrated by a lot of people because he does everything else so well."

And so we get to the similarities. As Robbie Deans is always at pains to point out, it's not natural talent that gets a Cooper or Carter to Test level.

It's talent plus hours and hours of hard work at training - and Braid says both certainly share a work ethic.

"The biggest thing about both of them is how they prepare to control a game," he says.

"They are very clear and vocal in what they want, where they want a runner, which shoulder, to control the forwards. To control a game, there's a lot of work in developing that."

Controlling a game is one thing, breaking it open is another. Tonight both men will be tasked with doing both and based on recent evidence, both are odds-on to deliver.

Cooper's attacking form in the Super Rugby finals and against the Springboks was sublime, and his kicking game is underrated.

Carter's brilliant kicking game is well known, and if anyone in Wallaby-land had forgotten his flair, a solo try against the Reds and a superb grubber-run-pass play that set up Zac Guildford's first try last weekend against the Boks were timely reminders.

"They have so much space and time. They can see it before anyone else, and know exactly the depth of a kick or the weight of a pass," says Braid.

"Both guys can just see the game." A similarity, then. Finally

England set to unleash their secret weapon Manu Tuilagi on Wales

The powerful Samoan-born centre is the talk of Martin Johnson's training camp and will make his debut against Wales in the first World Cup warm-up match at Twickenham on Saturday

 

The Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi is set to make his Test debut against Wales on Saturday. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

It is six years since England named a young, trembling debutant called Mathew Tait to face Wales, an experiment that ended in conspicuous failure. Now they have picked another youthful centre with the same initials to wear the No13 jersey against the same opposition, fully expecting a happier outcome. It says everything about the potential impact of Manu Tuilagi, England's new hunk of Samoan muscle, that those currently doing the trembling are likely to be the Wales midfield.

There is even a chance, as predicted by the normally understated Jonny Wilkinson, that England have unearthed a force of nature capable of transforming not just their immediate World Cup prospects but the wider landscape of rugby. Wilkinson's claim that England have not introduced a more striking game-changing talent since the great Jason Robinson is a bold one but there is not a single current England squad member who disagrees. Tuilagi is only 20 but he could yet be the catalyst Martin Johnson needs to transform his squad into serious World Cup contenders.

Johnson, as he was obliged to do, made a point of saying he could have fielded another XV of equal strength to the one he will send out on Saturday. But the more one looks at this team-sheet, the more one wonders if the midfield could yet prove the answer to Johnson's biggest conundrum. On paper, the sheer power and explosiveness of Tuilagi allied to the footballing skill of a fit-again Riki Flutey is not far short of the perfect centre combination. Graft on Wilkinson's defensive ability and kicking prowess, plus a versatile back three, and it is possible to imagine a far more fluent red rose midfield than has lately been the case.

The only snag, of course, is that Johnson does not have months or years in which to bed down his 10th different centre partnership in 31 Tests. There is also the priceless experience of Mike Tindall to factor into the equation. The testimony of his team-mates, even so, suggests the coming man is arriving at freight-train speed. "I'd never run at him, I'll tell you that," said Delon Armitage, starting at full-back for the first time since the 2010 Six Nations. "He's definitely ready."

As recently as May that assessment did not look a formality. He appeared distinctly nervous on his Saxons debut against Italy A in January, while his high-profile assault on Chris Ashton in last season's Premiership semi-final has also taught him the importance of discipline. "You learn from your mistakes and come back a better player," Tuilagi said. "I've surprised myself really. This time last year I wasn't even playing for Leicester."

Johnson, though, has seen enough in training to convince him Tuilagi can handle the step up to Test level and, potentially, eclipse the deeds of his four older Test-playing brothers. "He's got great awareness, he's not just a power runner," said the England team manager, confident the unsavoury Ashton episode will prove a one-off. "We wouldn't put him out there if we thought that was an issue." No member of the Tuilagi family, however, has ever displayed a reluctance to rush up and legitimately clatter anything in front of them, and Manu is no different. "I was born with that," he said, insisting any rugby-related discomfort was a minor detail compared to the pain he endured this summer. A village elder back in Samoa took the opportunity to decorate him with a massive tribal tattoo which covers much of his right arm and biceps; it took 14 hours to complete although, to Manu's relief, the artwork was performed with needles rather than the traditional whale bone.

Amid all this talk of eye-watering Samoan customs, it was almost possible to overlook the fact England will have two more uncapped players on the bench this weekend. The Saracens lock Mouritz Botha and the Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples can both expect to see some game time, even if their chances of selection for Johnson's final World Cup 30 remain uncertain, but this particular selection is also notable for the number of established players keen to prove a point.

The Saracens prop Matt Stevens will make his first England appearance since November 2008, while Lewis Moody is back from the knee ligament injury which ruled him out of the Six Nations. Simon Shaw will be grateful for his chance in the second row, while Danny Care starts at scrum-half in the absence of the still injured Ben Youngs. It is also the first time England have capped a Ricoh Black Ram, James Haskell having negotiated a short-term deal with the Japanese club to play in Asia after the World Cup. Haskell, who will wear No8 having operated on the open-side flank during the Six Nations, is choosing to take the long road home to Wasps in 2012-13, having also decided to enjoy a stint in the Super 15.The only downside is that, as a result, this weekend may prove to be his last Twickenham outing for a while.

The same could, conceivably, apply to Toulon's Wilkinson, the Rugby Football Union having indicated it will favour home-based players over ex-pats from next year. Given, however, that the upper echelons of the RFU remain in administrative chaos and that the fly-half is currently fitter than he has ever been, Wilkinson may yet be granted the special exemption his long and distinguished service record clearly deserves.

England D Armitage (London Irish); M Banahan (Bath), M Tuilagi (Leicester), R Flutey (Wasps), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); J Wilkinson (Toulon), D Care (Harlequins); A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Hartley (Northampton), M Stevens (Saracens), S Shaw (unattached), T Palmer (Stade Français), T Croft (Leicester), L Moody (Bath, capt), J Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams).

Replacements L Mears, D Wilson (both Bath), M Botha (Saracens), T Wood (Northampton), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), C Hodgson (Saracens), C Sharples (Gloucester).

Wales R Priestland (Scarlets); G North (Scarlets), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); P James (Ospreys), H Bennett (Ospreys), C Mitchell (Exeter), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), AW Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (NG Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff, capt), T Faletau (NG Dragons).

Replacements L Burns (NG Dragons), R Bevington (Ospreys), L Charteris (NG Dragons), R Jones (Ospreys), T Knoyle (Scarlets), S Williams (Scarlets), M Stoddart (Scarlets).

 

 



Nadroga holds off Naitasiri, retains Cup


 

August 06, 2011

By Torika Tokalau

Nadroga has again, successfully defended the Farebrother Cup from its most strongest challenger Naitasiri this afternoon 23-19 at Lawaqa Park.

Naitasiri did well to challenge for the coveted silverware and drew first blood with a penalty but the Stallions defended their turf well to take the game 6-3 into halftime.

Throughout the match, both teams took turns at the lead but Nadroga proved too good to hold onto to the Farebrother Cup for the seventh week running.

“Naitasiri was a worthy opponent, just like in the past they have always been our toughest opponent and today was no different,” Paula Biu, Nadroga manager.

“They threatened our defence in some parts of the game when they took the lead but I thank my boys for holding strong and defending the Farebrother for another week.”

Nadi is the final challenger for the Cup next week.


Match sequence

FULL TIME - NADROGA 23-19 NAITASIRI

81m TRY Nadroga -22 Karatu. CON -10 Nacagilevu. Ndr 23-19

77m PEN Naitasiri -10 Vunaki. Ndr 16-19 Ntr.

71m TRY -20 Emosi Vucago. CON -10 Nacagilevu. Ndr 16-16 Ntr

61m PEN Naitasiri -10 Vunaki. Ndr 9-16 Ntr

53m PEN Naitasiri -10 Vunaki. Ndr 9-13 Ntr

51m PEN Nadroga -10 Nacagilevu. Ndr 9-10 Ntr.

46m TRY Naitasiri -3 Jeke Lalai. CON -10 Vunaki. Ndr 6-10 Ntr

HT: NADROGA 6-3 NAITASIRI

29m PEN Nadroga -10 Nacagilevu. Ndr 6-3 Ntr

21m PEN Nadroga -10 Mitieli Nacagilevu. Ndr 3-3 Ntr

9m PEN Naitasiri -10 Kolinio Vunaki. Ndro 0-3 Ntsr

Fijilive

Tongans rule out haka face-off against All Blacks

 

To the disappointment of many fans, it appears one of the most eagerly awaited confrontations of the World Cup may not take place when New Zealand meet Tonga in Friday's opening game.

Tonga captain Finau Maka has insisted that his side will not perform their fearsome war dance - the Sipi Tau - at the same time as the All Blacks' haka, as they did at the 2003 World Cup in Brisbane. Then, a volatile stand-off provided some of the most enduring images of the tournament.

The International Rugby Board may have squirmed over the years at the prospect of European teams instigating their own reply to the haka, but the Rugby World Cup authorities have been hoping for just such a photogenic occasion when the Pacific Island teams play New Zealand.

 

"I get more from the haka by watching it and accepting the challenge," said Maka, a former New Zealand Under-21 player who has performed the haka. "I also think it is more respectful that they are both done in their turn."

Maka, a powerhouse in the Toulouse back row for many years, is probably in a small minority in holding that view and the Tongans could yet have a rethink after an extraordinary welcome at Auckland airport yesterday.

An estimated 7,000 New Zealand-based Tongans mobbed the team, making this tournament seem even more like a Pacific Islands World Cup.

Many fans blocked the team coach to postpone their departure for a prayer meeting at a church in Epsom, an Auckland suburb, and a press conference at their city hotel.

Accepting the fait accompli, the Tonga team sang and performed a series of haka for their fans before arriving nearly three hours late for their press duties, despite a police escort to help them through rush-hour traffic.

They are clearly among friends but that might not count for much on Friday night when they take on a New Zealand team anxious to blast out of the blocks and rid themselves of pre-tournament nerves.

Maka, however, insists that Tonga are not there simply to make up the numbers.

"We are just going to take it to the All Blacks on Friday and see if they can stop us. Our forward pack is much more disciplined these days. I'm confident that we can beat any team."

The Telegraph, London

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