Samoa v Tonga: All you need to know before the Rugby World Cup qualification showdown
A rivalry dating back 95 years resumes on Saturday when Samoa take on Tonga in the first of two tests that will decide the identity of Oceania 1 at Rugby World Cup 2023.
Here’s our guide to a fixture that was first played in Apia in 1926.
Who normally wins?
Despite being the lower-ranked of the two teams, Samoa have traditionally been the dominant force. They lead by 34 wins to 26 in the overall head-to-head standings and won the last encounter 25-17 in Apia in the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2019.
What about in Rugby World Cup qualifiers?
Again, Samoa have tended to come out on top and are leading 7-1 in this regard; however, Tonga won 30-26 the last time they met in the qualification process.
That match was played in front of a crowd of 10,000 at Teufaiva Stadium, in the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa. It was the first time the city had hosted test rugby in eight years.
Team Naming RWCQ 1 | Manu Samoa vs Ikale Tahi Tonga, 10th July 2021 @ Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland.#WeAreManuSamoa #LeManu #MSMvTGA pic.twitter.com/PCxqgVTk3N— Manu Samoa (@manusamoa) July 7, 2021
What’s their form like?
Samoa go into the match having suffered back-to-back defeats to New Zealand Maori.
After a 35-10 defeat in Wellington the previous week, Samoa put in an improved showing in losing 38-21 in the follow-up fixture at the Mt Smart Stadium. New Zealand Maori only pulled away in the final quarter when Samoa suffered a second yellow card.
Neria Fomai, Tomasi Alosio and Kalolo Tuiloma scored tries, which Henry Taefu successfully converted.
Samoa have not played a test since their 47-5 loss to Ireland at RWC 2019.
Meanwhile, Tonga will be looking to put last week's 102-0 defeat to the All Blacks behind them.
Who scores the most tries in the fixture?
Samoa’s now-retired winger David Lemi scored a record seven tries in 12 appearances against Tonga. Alesana Tuilagi is next best with five, although four came in one match – a Rugby World Cup 2007 qualifier.
Cooper Vuna, Elisi Vunipola, Sila Va'enuku and Taunaholo Taufahema are joint-top try-scorers for Tonga against Samoa with two tries apiece.
Will the winner of this match go to France 2023?
A win would help but nothing will be decided this weekend. The space reserved for Oceania 1 at Rugby World Cup 2023 will go to the team with the best aggregate score over two legs. The second leg takes place in Hamilton on 17 July.
A big win in the first leg obviously will give the triumphant team a huge advantage, though. Samoa’s biggest-ever margin of victory in Rugby World Cup qualifiers is 49 points, while Tonga’s is 23.
Which Pool are Oceania 1 in at RWC 2023?
Oceania 1 will kick-off their Pool D campaign against Americas 2 in Bordeaux on 16 September. Six days later, on 22 September, they will take on Argentina in Saint-Étienne. RWC 2019 hosts Japan are their next opponents in Toulouse on 28 September, followed by 2003 winners England in Lille on 7 October.
What happens to the loser?
There will still be two avenues for them to qualify for France 2023, either through the Asia/Pacific play-off, or the Final Qualification tournament.
The first hurdle to overcome is a play-off against the Cook Islands on 24 July in Pukekohe, New Zealand. Win that and a game against the winners of the Asia Rugby Championship 2021 – either Hong Kong, Malaysia or Korea – will determine which team secures the Asia/Pacific 1 berth in Pool B.
Reigning world champions South Africa, Ireland and Scotland have already qualified for Pool B, with the fifth and final place going to Europe 2.
The dream of a place at France 2023 will not end for the loser of the Asia/Pacific Qualifier as they will take their place in the Final Qualification Tournament which will determine the 20th and final qualifier.
How did they qualify last time around?
Tonga qualified as one of the top-two ranked teams across Pacific Nations Cup 2016 and 2017, finishing runners-up to Fiji and taking the Oceania 2 spot. Samoa advanced to an Oceania/Europe play-off against Germany, which they won 108-43, on aggregate, to book their place at England 2019 as the Play-Off Qualifier.
Tonga's Sipi Tau v @lospumas was fierce!— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 28, 2019
Watch LIVE coverage of #ARGvTGA here: https://t.co/z0BgdPH0sf #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/pyIIZaqDUJ
Has either team ever missed out on the Rugby World Cup?
Tonga have only failed to compete at a Rugby World Cup once, in 1991, while Samoa have been ever-present since failing to secure an invitation to the inaugural tournament in 1987.
As two-time quarter-finalists, Samoa have the better Rugby World Cup pedigree but Tonga were responsible for one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s history when they defeated France, who went on to make the final, at Rugby World Cup 2011.
Do the coaches have Rugby World Cup pedigree?
Samoa’s new head coach Seilala Mapusua takes charge of Manu Samoa for the first time in a test and will be hoping to join a select band of individuals to have played and coached at a Rugby World Cup. The former centre appeared for Samoa in the 2007 and 2011 tournaments.
Tonga’s coach Toutai Kefu won RWC 1999 with Australia, scoring a hat-trick in the Wallabies’ against Romania. Kefu was also head coach when Tonga pipped Samoa to the Oceania 2 spot for RWC 2019
What are the rankings implications?
Samoa – regarded as the home team for this first leg – are 14th in the World Rugby Men's Rankings with Tonga one place above them in 13th. Victory for the men in blue would see them move above Tonga in the rankings but a defeat or even a draw would cause them to drop below Italy.
Tonga cannot improve their position as even a victory by more than 15 points would leave them trailing Georgia by 0.45 rating points
Who will referee the first test?
Referee Ben O’Keeffe was the man in the middle for Tonga’s loss to New Zealand last week, but has not refereed Samoa since his debut test in June 2016.
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