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Mana Otai says Tonga's opening World Cup clash with Georgia is like boxing match

Published 18/09/2015

Gloucester forward Sione Kalamafoni will line up for Tonga against Georgia in Saturday's World Cup clash at Kingsholm
Gloucester forward Sione Kalamafoni will line up for Tonga against Georgia in Saturday's World Cup clash at Kingsholm

Tonga coach Mana Otai has likened Saturday's World Cup Pool C opener against Georgia at Gloucester to a boxing match.

The Kingsholm encounter looks set to become a gruelling forward battle between two heavyweight packs as both sides target an early win in a group that also includes reigning world champions New Zealand and in-form Argentina.

"It is similar to a boxing match," Otai said.

"We have got to try to take their strengths out, and apply our own.

"I believe we have the athleticism and experience as well, but one of the basic fundamentals of rugby is to look after your set-piece very well, and that is an area we have been working very hard on."

Otai has made six changes from Tonga's last game against Romania a fortnight ago, while considerable attention will surround wing Fetu'u Vainikolo, who needs one try to overtake Josh Taumalolo as his country's all-time record Test try-scorer.

Other switches see Gloucester back-row forward Sione Kalamafoni moved from number eight to blindside flanker, while ex-Leicester man Steve Mafi features at lock, replacing Joe Tuinea.

Georgia, meanwhile, parade 18-year-old scrum-half Vasil Lobhanidze, who will become the youngest player ever to appear at a Rugby World Cup, breaking the previous record that was held by American Thretton Palamo.

Georgia, though, will be without injured trio Lasha Khmaladze, Alexandre Todua and David Kubriashvili, and coach Milton Haig said: "They just picked up little bumps in the recent Canada or Japan games that they haven't recovered quickly enough from.

"Maybe we could have considered a couple of them, but the medics and other coaches thought that we've still got three important games to go and if we don't have to rush them, then we didn't want to."

Reflecting on his selection, Haig added: "The team was picked because of its experience.

"If we had a question mark about two guys and one was more experienced than the other, the experienced guy got the nod because you can't buy that experience.

"And especially with close Test matches like it's going to be on Saturday against Tonga, it is important to have that experience.

"Tonga have a big pack and they are big carriers - that's their game. They like to get over the advantage line, and when they do that consistently they create problems for people.

"They've got some quick backs and some guys who can step, like Fetu'u Vainikolo and Siale Piutau, so our job is going to be making sure we can defend that kind of play, and if we work well together we shouldn't have any issues.

"First-up tackles are going to be really important.

"What we will bring is our forward power, and we will be looking to test them out in those wider channels and create some opportunities for ourselves because part of our game now is having the ability to use the ball with a bit of space and width."

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