Tonga favourites to win battle of winless teams

USA will equal their World Cup record of 10 straight defeats if they fail against Tonga on Sunday - and as they played only four days ago the odds are against them.

OSAKA, 12 Oct – A preview of the Pool C match between USA and Tonga, which kicks off at 14:45 on Sunday at Hanazono Rugby Stadium.

The big picture

The last match in Pool C may only decide fourth and fifth spots, but the standings belie these teams' performances.

Both gave France a fight. USA trailed 12-9 in Fukuoka with under 15 minutes to play, but fell away to a 33-9 defeat.

Tonga threatened to repeat their 2011 victory over Les Bleus. Though they went 17-0 behind, they were finally edged out by just two points, 23-21.

The Sea Eagles are perhaps therefore slight favourites.

They have also had a clear week to prepare, whereas USA must recover from a bruising encounter against Argentina on Wednesday. They take to the field with 12 of the 15 who kicked off that match.

Tonga, pictured performing the Sipi Tau before their game against Argentina, have won eight of the teams' previous nine meetings, their only defeat coming 20 years ago in San Francisco in their very first clash.

"When we stuck to what our plan was we were pretty good. When we went off script we weren't," said USA coach Gary Gold of the performances so far.

"That's been our biggest lesson in this Rugby World Cup. When that has happened, the calibre of the teams we're playing punish you."

Tonga's downfall has been their slow starts. As well as the France game, Argentina also took a 28-0 lead. Coach Toutai Kefu says they will try something a bit different this time. 

Over-long warm-ups were one of the areas being looked at. Kefu also said: "We're going to try to connect the players earlier in the day and do a few new things in the changing room.

"We watched the Americans' game on Wednesday and they were very aggressive. If we don't bring anything but our best we're going to be in trouble."

Gold has highlighted the Tongans' physicality. He said, "If you consider it was only a few short weeks ago that they conceded 90-odd points against New Zealand (92-7 in their final warm-up match), it's massive credit to Toutai and his team how they've dusted themselves off and come back fighting."

Form guide (most recent matches first)

USA: LLLWL

Tonga: LLLLL

Head-to-head:

Played 9 - US 1W - Tonga 8W

In the spotlight

Tonga captain Siale Piutau, who turns 34 on Sunday, has announced this will be his last international game, as has flanker Sione Kalamafoni.

Both are in their third World Cups and were in the side who beat France eight years ago. They will be setting a Tongan record by making their 12th appearances in the tournament.

USA captain Blaine Scully is also equalling his country's record in the tournament with his 11th appearance.

American scrum-half Ruben de Haas, 21, made his first start of the tournament in the defeat by Argentina. He nonetheless keeps his place in the first XV ahead of Shaun Davies, who began against England and France.

Team news

Despite the four-day turnaround, Gold makes only three changes. Will Hooley returns to the starting XV at full-back after his concussion in the opening match against England. Mike Teo makes way.

Second row Nick Civetta is back for Nate Brakeley. On the flank, Malon Al-Jiboori gets his first taste of tournament action, with John Quill suspended after his red card for a tackle on England captain Owen Farrell.

Tonga also make three changes. Wingers Viliami Lolohea and Atieli Pakalani come back for Cooper Vuna and David Halaifonua. Prop Siosiua Halanukonuka makes his first start in place of Ma’afu Fia.

Stats and trivia

Both teams are on the cusp of unwanted records. If USA lose, they will match their worst run in Rugby World Cup games, 10 defeats in a row. The Pacific Islanders have already equalled their worst RWC run with five successive losses.

Tongan locks Sam Lousi and Leva Fifita have famous brothers. Sione Lousi played rugby league for Tonga. Vaea Fifita has 12 caps for New Zealand, but was omitted from their RWC squad due to injury.

Number eight Maama Vaipulu's father Lemeki represented Tonga in the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.

Quotes:

"We're both desperate. We're approaching the game as if it's our grand final. Looking at what we've done the last couple of weeks, the improvements we've made, we don't want to undo that and put in a below-par and poor performance." – Tonga coach Toutai Kefu

"Both teams will be fighting for a lot of pride, both wanting to go back to our respective countries with our heads held high from a tough group." – USA coach Gary Gold

RNS mg/ar/bo