Tonga’s bid to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023 started just over two years 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.
The ‘Ikale Tahi 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.
A 44-22 win in that game means they can now look forward to their ninth Rugby World Cup tournament, having only missed out on the 1991 edition.
Of the three Pacific Island nations to compete at the Rugby World Cup, Tonga are the only one not to progress beyond the pool stages, something they will hope to put right in France over the next couple of months.
Here, we take a brief look back at their Rugby World Cup history …
RWC debut: 24 May, 1987 – Canada 37-4 Tonga, McLean Park, Napier, New Zealand
RWC appearances: Played 29, Won 8, Draw 0, Lost 21, Points for 472, Points against 966, Win percentage 28 per cent
Most RWC appearances: Siale Piutau, Sione Kalamafoni, 12
Most RWC tries: Telusa Veainu, 5
Best finish: Pool stages
Qualification for RWC 2023: Asia/Pacific 1
Most memorable match: France 14-19 Tonga, Wellington, RWC 2011
Around 6,000 red-shirted ex-pats created a brilliant atmosphere in Wellington and were rewarded with one of the biggest upsets in Rugby World Cup history.
Tonga fly-half Kurt Morath kicked four penalties and converted Sukanaivalu Hufanga's try as the Pacific islanders signed off from the 2011 in tournament in style.
Iconic moment: Sipi Tau
Tonga’s electrifying pre-match ritual lays down the challenge to the opposition and never fails to disappoint as a spectacle.
Low point: Conceding a century of points v England, RWC 1999
Tonga had hoped to follow Samoa’s win over Wales earlier in the tournament by causing another World Cup upset when they met England at Twickenham, but they were badly let down by ill-discipline. Three cards – one red and two yellow – in the space of three minutes just before the interval ruined any chance they had of making an impression at English rugby’s HQ.
Iconic player: Epi Taione
The bustling, 19-stone centre, no stranger to controversy in the past, caused quite a stir on the eve of Rugby World Cup 2007 when he changed his name by deed poll to ‘Paddy Power’ and dyed his hair green after signing a sponsorship deal with the Irish bookmaker of the same name.
Taione started all four matches in his second Rugby World Cup tournament, having debuted in 1999, and scored a try in Tonga’s 19-15 win against Samoa.
Record-breaker: Kurt Morath
Morath, one of the heroes of the epic RWC 2011 win over France, is his country’s all-time leading points scorer at Rugby World Cups with 73 points.
Did you know?
Tonga fielded what was then the oldest starting XV in Rugby World Cup history (31 years and 38 days) for their Pool C game against Argentina in Leicester at RWC 2015.
"In Tonga it's like this: number one is our faith, family, rugby and then comes food. That's what we play for: our country. We're just against the world really. Some of us don't even get paid." – full-back Telusa Veainu being totally upfront about the sacrifices Tonga's players make during a press conference at RWC 2019.