Tonga has qualified for their eighth consecutive Rugby World Cup after a dominant 44-22 win against Hong Kong in the Asia/Pacific Play-off at the Sunshine Coast Stadium.
ʻIkale Tahi captain Sonatane Takalua led from the front, scoring a hat trick as the Tongan team threatened to pile the points early but were disallowed two tries in the opening four minutes.
Hong Kong were under severe pressure, conceding five penalties in the first 10 minutes before Tongan flyhalf William Havili finally punished them in the 11th minute, with a penalty goal.
It took only minutes for Tonga to extend their lead with Takalua sniping at the ruck to score the match’s first try.
Over the next few minutes, Hong Kong managed to get their hands on the ball and scored a try with their very first visit inside the Tongan 22, when some slick passing put hooker Alex Post in at the corner.
Takalua continued to drive the ʻIkale Tahi forward and scored his second try in identical fashion to the first, but not before the TMO had his say again, but this time siding with the Tongans. Hong Kong replied almost immediately, after a superb run from full-back Nate de Thierry and Tom Hill resulted in Tongan hooker Siua Maile illegally slowing the ball down. He was sent to the bin, allowing Gregor McNeish to kick the penalty and reduce the deficit to nine.
Despite being a man down, Tonga was the only team to score in the last 10 minutes with Havili kicking a second penalty to give Tonga a 20-8 lead going into the half.
Tonga got the second half off to a perfect start with tries to Takalua and Siegfried Fisi’ihoi in the opening ten minutes. Tonga’s scrum dominance continued, securing multiple penalties in the opposing 22, with winger Telusa Veainu finishing off a set-piece before fellow winger, Anzelo Tuitavuki scored his own try after a 65-metre line break down the wing.
Leading 44-8 with five minutes to go, nothing was working for Hong Kong, until the ball accidentally hit referee Damon Murphy, allowing McNeish to take the free kick and send it crossfield to Matt Worley who gathered it for the score. Worley was on the end of another suburb kick, bolting downfield to collect Bryn Philips’ 70-metre punt to score on full-time, with McNeish converting to end the match 44-22.
Despite letting in two late tries Tonga had down enough early to book their place at France 2023, which was a great relief according to Takalua.
“I am lucky enough to get these three tries, but it wasn’t just me, it was a great effort from all the boys, and it is a big relief to get the win,” he said. “Tongan supporters are always behind wherever we go in the world and to get support like this behind us tonight was a big push for us.”
The ‘Ikale Tahi will face Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, and Romania in Pool B at Rugby World Cup 2023, while Hong Kong will take compete for the final qualifying spot in November against Portugal, Kenya, and the United States.
Tries: Takalua (3), Fisi’ihoi, Tuitavuki, Veainu
Conversions: Havili (4) Penalty Goals: Havili (2)
Hong Kong (22)
Tries: Worley (2)
Post Conversions: McNeish (2) Penalty Goals: McNeish
Article adapted from the Oceania Rugby website.