(Reuters) – Factbox on the Tonga squad for the Rugby World Cup in Japan, where they will compete in Pool C:
World ranking: 15
Tonga coach Toutai Kefu has aimed high for his side at the World Cup, hoping they have enough depth in talent and professional experience to qualify for the knockout phases for the first time.
It could be a tall order for the Pacific Islanders, who have qualified for their eighth World Cup having missed only the 1991 tournament, but won just seven games in total and are drawn in Pool C with England, Argentina, France and the United States.
They have, however, proved difficult opponents for tier one nations to put away. They upset France 19-14 at the 2011 tournament and the All Blacks needed to finish strongly to beat them in 2011 and 2015.
Tonga’s population of just 108,000 has meant they have had to draw on a number of New Zealand or Australia-born players of Tongan heritage like Sam Lousi, captain Siale Piutau and Ben Tameifuna to boost the squad.
The influence of 24 players playing professionally in Europe has produced a far more patient approach in their style of play, which could make them dangerous opponents.
Toutai Kefu (Tonga)
A former hard-running ball handling number eight who won 60 caps for the Wallabies and was a key member of the 1999 World Cup winners, Tonga-born Kefu took the head coaching job in 2016 after stints in Australia and Japan.
He has spent a large part of the last two years building depth in the squad, which included giving eight players their first caps in one game in 2016, and has strengthened the pack with the selection of several former Super Rugby players.
Manu’s journey to his first World Cup could prove inspirational for his team mates after he battled back from testicular cancer last year.
A tough, if undersized, number eight, the Christchurch-born Manu spent most of his Super Rugby career with the Otago Highlanders where he was described by then coach Jamie Joseph as “fearless” and “an inspiring leader”.
He gained cult status in Dunedin after he led the team to their first title in 2015 and his Tonga team mates will feed off his no-nonsense play in Japan.
Captain: Siale Piutau
Forwards – Siegfried ‘Fisiihoi, Vunipola Fifita, Latu ‘Talakai, Paula ‘Ngauamo, Sosefo ‘Sakalia, Siua Maile, Siua ‘Halanukonuka, Ma’afu Fia, Ben Tameifuna, Sam Lousi, Leva Fifita, Sitiveni Mafi, Sione Kalamafoni, Maama ‘Vaipulu, Fotu ‘Lokotui, Zane ‘Kapeli, Dan Faleafa, Nasi Manu
Backs – Sonatane Takulua, Leon ‘Fukofuka, Samisoni Fisilau, Kurt Morath, James ‘Faiva, Siale Piutau, Malietoa Hingano, Nafi Tuitavake, Atieli Pakalani, David Halaifonua, Viliami Lolohea, Cooper Vuna, Telusa Veainu
(Compiled by Greg Stutchbury and Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)