A bruising battle awaits South Africa and Tonga on Sunday when the two nations clash in the Rugby World Cup Pool B fixture at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
It is just the third time that the Springboks and ʻIkale Tahi will collide in a Test match and the second World Cup meeting between the two sides.
The defending champions head into the encounter off the back of a physically brutal 13-8 loss to Ireland, their first loss after six straight victories.
Meanwhile, Tonga have lost back-to-back games to kick off their World Cup, going down 59-16 to Ireland and 45-17 to Scotland.
The last time the two sides clashed, at the 2007 World Cup, the Pacific Islanders gave the Springboks a mighty scare during the pool stages, with Jake White’s side claiming a 30-25 victory before going on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
Jacques Nienaber’s charges will be wary of falling into the same trap this time around, and while they have named a vastly changed side from the one that lost to Ireland, they still have plenty of quality in their 23 to tackle Toutai Kefu’s side.
After two disappointing defeats, Tonga will be looking to land a big blow on Sunday and following the changes to World Rugby’s eligibility laws, they have a few former All Blacks and Wallabies adding to an already imposing squad.
Last time they met
What they said
Springboks head coach Nienaber said his side is not taking Tonga lightly and that his team selection highlights that.
“If you look at the team selection, 13 of the players that played against Ireland are playing in this test match again, so that shows you how important this game is for us and with how much respect we are treating Tonga,” he said. “If you don’t give them respect, it can become a slippery game.”
South Africa are preparing for a massive clash in the pack and Bok scrum coach Daan Human spoke highly of the Tonga scrum that his front-rowers will front up against.
“Possibly the heaviest pack in the whole competition; they’ve got a massive hit, and we need to be able to handle that,” he said. “They put Ireland under a lot of pressure. They’ve got a hell of a pack.”
Forward Kwagga Smith said that the Boks will be chasing a bonus point but added that he knows a physical battle awaits.
“We know we need to get those five points, so we will go into that game with the mindset of getting a bonus point,” the back-row explained.
“For us also, they’re a physical team, so to play against them will be great for us to know that our physicality is also at the highest level.”
Players to watch
He has taken a ton of opinion column space in the build-up to the clash against Ireland and this one, but the return of Handre Pollard just cannot be ignored. The Springboks have one of the worst kicking records at the World Cup, a traditional strength of theirs and Pollard will be keen to rectify those woes. The 2019 World Cup winner will be eager to put his injury struggles behind him as he looks to recapture the superb form he was in for Leicester Tigers last season.
The Springboks pack is jampacked with talented individuals, but there will be a close eye on starting hooker Deon Fourie and his replacement Marco van Staden. The former has been seen as a utility option for the Boks since making his debut last year and is now in the starting role following Malcolm Marx’s injury and the need to rest Bongi Mbonambi. Meanwhile, Van Staden, usually an openside flanker, had not played a professional match at hooker before the clash against Romania and will be out to impress in the role after a solid shift against the Europeans.
Lastly, the changes in the backline means that rising superstar Canan Moodie gets another opportunity to shine at outside centre for the Springboks. He starred in the role against the All Blacks and Twickenham and made his World Cup debut in the 13 jersey against Romania despite playing most of his professional rugby on the wing. He is the youngest player in the Springboks squad and is set to rack up a boatload of Test caps in the future.
Many rugby fans will know the name Ben Tameifuna, with the Tongan tighthead garnering somewhat of a cult following during his stints with the Chiefs, Racing 92 and Bordeaux. The heavyweight front-row has been in stellar form this World Cup despite Tonga’s results and has skippered the side in their opening two games. A fierce front-row battle is on the cards, with Tameifuna leading the charge for the Tongans.
Former Wallabies lock Adam Coleman is no stranger to tackling the Springboks and is back to do so again, but now in the red of Tonga. The hard-hitting workaholic lock will be licking his lips with the prospect of butting heads with Eben Etzebeth once again and getting stuck into his old rivals.
At the risk of being hyperbolic, there are very few better inside centres in world rugby right now than Toulouse and Tonga star Pita Ahki. While many number 12s are either a playmaker or an abrasive runner, Ahki is a wonderful blend of the two while also being a fantastic defensive organiser. The Boks need to limit the 31-year-old’s influence on the match if they hope to avoid a potential slip.
With the finishing places in Pool B far from secured, both sides will be out to claim a result. However, it is difficult to look past the defending champions securing a convincing win, unlike their 2007 counterparts. Tonga will put up a strong fight in the first half, but we expect the Springboks to pull away in the second and claim a plus 30-point victory.
1997: South Africa won 74-10 in Cape Town
2007: South Africa won 30-25 in Lens
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Grant Williams, 13 Canan Moodie, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Marco van Staden, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Jesse Kriel, 23 Manie Libbok
Tonga: 15 Salesi Piutau, 14 Fine Inisi, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Anzelo Tuitavuki, 10 William Havili, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Semisi Paea, 7 Sione Talitui, 6 Tanginoa Halaifonua, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Halaleva Fifita, 3 Ben Tameifuna (c), 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi
Replacements: 16 Sam Moli, 17 Tau Koloamatangi, 18 Sosefo Apikotoa, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Sione Vailanu, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Patrick Pellegrini, 23 Afusipa Taumoepeau
Date: Sunday, October 1
Venue: Stade de Marseille, Marseille
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 BST, 19:00 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (RFU), Christophe Ridley (RFU)
TMO: Brett Cronan (RA)
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