Tonga are hoping they can cause an upset when they face Ireland A tomorrow night at Ravenhill.
The South Sea Islanders are guaranteed to provide a huge physical challenge and their assistant coach Brian Melrose is targeting a victory against the Churchill Cup champions.
“It’s an important match because the previous results haven’t been what the Tongans would have liked, so it’s time to rebuild and to put in a competitive performance against a top class nation would be a great thing,” said Melrose.
Tonga are currently ranked 15th in the world and, like Ireland, they are already looking towards the next World Cup in New Zealand, starting at Ravenhill.
“Isitolo Maka has come in as the new coach and there are a number of new players but not all the players have been made available for the tour. It’s a fresh start and a chance to move forward towards better times and onto the 2011 World Cup,” added Melrose.
“It would have been fantastic to have the full squad here but some of those players are contracted to top clubs and the relationship between the clubs and being released for the national programme is something that could be looked into, but we’ll just get on with the players that we have got who are keen and looking forward to doing well tomorrow night.”
Despite missing a few of their more established players Melrose believes the game offers the prefect opportunity for the younger squad members to impress the new coach.
“It’s a great chance for those who are fresh into football at this level. They will be stepping up to a level that is new to them but it’s a fresh start and the coach will tell them the opportunity is there to push their claims.”
Melrose is promising that the tourists are coming to put on a show for the Belfast crowd and is hoping the weather holds fair so they can play an expansive game.
“Amongst the Tongan boys you’re always going to have strong runners. The back row has got good ability, the captain Kelekolio Paino is a real work horse.”
“In the backs the young right winger hasn’t played at this level before but looks a player of real promise and the full back glides effortlessly, so I’d like to think if we got some ball they’ll be a lot of nice play.”
The one thing the Tongans are famous throughout the rugby world for is their big hitting in the tackle so Ravenhill will not be for the faint-hearted come kick-off.
“I think it almost goes hand in hand that the boys have that physicality which they are known for but one of the challenges is to try and get that mix of concentration and game intelligence,” said Melrose.
“It can let you down at times if physicality is the only way you play the game, but it is certainly something that is synonymous with the way they play, so let’s hope so tomorrow night.”