Tonga moved into second place in Group C of the Rugby World Cup last night with a thrilling bonus point victory over Namibia, which kept their hopes of reaching the knockout stages alive.
Needing to bounce back after a humbling 17-10 loss to underdogs Georgia in their first outing, the Pacific islanders provided the perfect response by running in five tries against the tournament’s lowest ranked participants.
Much of Tonga’s success against a plucky Namibian side was built on the power and experience of their pack, and that forward dominance helped Jack Ram, Telusa Veaina and Johan Tromp all to cross the try line in the first half. Namibia grabbed a first period score of their own through Latiume Fosita but went into the break 22-7 down and facing the very real prospect of a potentially comprehensive defeat.
Tonga did indeed look like they would run away with the game when Ram crossed for his second try, which gave his side an all-important bonus point for having scored four in total. Much like they did against world champions New Zealand in their opening match however, Namibia rallied under pressure and legendary captain Jacques Burger kept things interesting with a try of his own.
Once Veainu crossed for his second and Tonga’s fifth try though, the game was all but gone for the Africans and whilst a late second for Burger was cheered to the rafters by the Exeter crowd, it couldn’t prevent a relatively comfortable 35-21 Tonga win.
The exciting and entertaining game represented the first time that Namibia had ever collected three tries in a World Cup game but did little for their prospects of avoiding last place in Group C, leaving them – as it does – pointless after two games.
Tonga on the other hand are very much alive in the tournament, with their bonus point victory lifting them into second place in the group, a single point above Argentina and very much in the quarter-final qualification conversation. With New Zealand awaiting them in their final group game, if the ‘Sea Eagles’ are to make the knockout stages, they will need to beat Argentina in Leicester on Sunday and number eight Sione Kalamafoni knows that that will be tough:
Argentina will be a whole different ball game. Their scrum is one of the best in the world.
If Tonga do fail to beat either Argentina or New Zealand and miss out on the quarter finals, the onus is still on Mana Otai’s side to make the games close and try to pick up a bonus point or two due to the importance of finishing third in the group. A third place finish after all, would guarantee automatically qualification for the 2019 World Cup in Japan and that would have been Tonga’s minimum pre-tournament aim after being drawn in a group featuring both Georgia and Namibia.