New Zealand v Tonga preview: All Blacks to switch gears against tough Tongans
- New Zealand looking to finish Pool strong ahead of their quarter-final against either Ireland or France.
- The defending World Champions are aiming to become the first nation to successfully retain the Webb Ellis trophy
- Ma’a Nonu is set to earn his 100th cap and become only the sixth centurion in All Black history
- Tonga makes one change to side that was humbled by Argentina
Despite winning all three of their group games to race to the top of Pool C, New Zealand has not been the clean cut fluid side that we all expect. This clash will be a physical test, but the All Blacks will look to sharpen up their game ahead of a quarter-final showdown against either Ireland or France.
The defending World Champions have admittedly not been at the top of their game despite scoring 18 tries while shipping just three.
Whoever they face in the next round will be sure to push them all the way, and the All Blacks need to be ready if they are to make history by becoming the first nation to successfully defend the Webb Ellis trophy.
Tonga meanwhile maintains a nigh on impossible chance of progressing to the next round themselves. A bonus point win would be required here while they would also be relying on Namibia to claim their first ever World Cup win over the purring Pumas.
Victory is also a necessity to steal third place from Georgia, and in reality, Tonga will be grateful if they can avoid a hiding.
Captain Richie McCaw is sidelined with a hip injury, so Sam Cane steps in as openside flanker while Number eight Kieran Read takes the reigns.
Ma’a Nonu is set to earn his 100th cap and become only the sixth centurion in All Black history, alongside McCaw, Dan Carter, Kevin Mealamu, Tony Woodcock and Mils Muliaina.
Joint top try scorer at this World Cup Julian Savea has been left out of the squad altogether, with Ma’a Nonu switching wings to accommodate Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Woodcock and Owen Franks slot into the front row, while lock Luke Romano also joins the pack.
Tonga meanwhile have made just one change to the side that were eventually humbled 45-16 by Argentina in a thrilling encounter in Leicester.
Latiume Fosita comes in at inside-centre for Sione Piukala, Coach Mana ‘Otai keeps faith with experienced heads to cause what would be a monumental upset.
Players to watch
With Julian Savea rested, Milner-Skudder has a fantastic opportunity to stake his claim as a starter for their quarter-final showdown. The super stepper showed a glimpse of what he can do against Namibia in a Man-of-the-match display that produced a brace, but he really ought to have scored even more. At his best, no defence can handle him, and another flurry of tries here will give coach Steve Hansen something to ponder.
The Tongan fly-half has struggled for consistency from the tee during this World Cup, but he has scored some vital points against Georgia and Namibia to ensure that his side came away with something from both of those games. The number 10 also helped to keep the score respectable against Argentina, and he scored one of two tries for the Pacific Nations, and he will need to be on point if they are to pull off a miracle here.
Tonga will certainly not roll over and die in this one, with qualification still a distinct, if unlikely possibility. History is not their friend in this tie, as the head to head record reads as New Zealand wins to nil, by an aggregate score of 279-26. The Tongans can take some heart from the fact that they have scored a try in each of their last two tangles with the two-time World Champions, but they face what has been a rather solid defensive unit.
The All Blacks know that they have not yet been at their best, with far too many handling errors against Georgia in particular removing the shine from what was otherwise another stellar display. Leaders need to emerge in the absence of captain McCaw, and the coach will be looking for a huge performance as they look to move through the gears in anticipation of a massive quarter-final.
New Zealand by 30.
New Zealand: 15. Ben Smith, 14. Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13. Conrad Smith, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 11. Waisake Naholo; 10. Daniel Carter, 9. Aaron Smith; 8. Kieran Read, 7. Sam Cane, 6. Jerome Kaino, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Luke Romano, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Dane Coles, 1. Tony Woodcock Replacements: 16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Ben Franks, 19. Brodie Retallick, 20. Liam Messam, 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22. Beauden Barrett, 23. Sonny Bill Williams.
Tonga: 15. Vungakoto Lilo, 14. Telusa Veainu, 13. Siale Piutau, 12. Latiume Fosita, 11. Fetu’u Vainikolo; 10. Kurt Morath, 9. Sonatane Takulua; 8. Viliami Ma’afu, 7. Nili Latu, 6. Sione Kalamafoni, 5. Joseph Tuineau, 4. Tukulua Lokotui, 3. Halani Aulika, 2. Elvis Taione, 1. Soane Tonga’uiha Replacements: 16. Paula Ngauamo, 17. Sona Taumalolo, 18. Sila Puafisi, 19. Sitiveni Mafi, 20. Jack Ram, 21.Samisoni Fisilau, 22. Viliami Tahitua, 23. Will Helu.
Date: Friday, October 9
Venue: St. James Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle, Marius Mitrea
Television match official: Graham Hughes