Tonga vs England preview: The road to a showdown with the Kangaroos

Dr Chop Roar Guru

By Dr Chop, Dr Chop is a Roar Guru

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16 Have your say

    And then there were four.

    Yes, after three weeks of pool games and a round of quarter-finals, we’re starting to see the separation of boys and men occur right before our very eyes.

    The first semi-final on Friday in Brisbane will see tournament favourites Australia take on giant-killers Fiji. After going down to the Australians at the semi-final stage in the previous two World Cups, Fiji will be hoping for a bit of third time luck.

    In the other semi-final, after knocking off Lebanon and Papua New Guinea respectively, the Tongans and the English will do battle on the hallowed turf of Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland, for the right to contest next week’s final in Brisbane – likely against the omnipotent Kangaroos.

    This second semi-final will be an absolute cracker! For me, either team could win it and I think it’ll go down to the wire.

    After topping Group B by defeating Scotland and Samoa, as well as upsetting the World No.2 team New Zealand, Tonga managed to best Lebanon 24-22 on Saturday afternoon in what was a very tight encounter.

    In the end, they did enough to get the job done against the courageous Cedars. But Tonga coach Kristian Woolf will be disappointed with his team’s 29 missed tackles and eight errors. Both these areas will need to be improved upon if Tonga is to trouble England.

    The Tongans attacked well in the first half, and as usual their monster forward pack dominated the middle. But they fell away in the second half. This is something that they cannot afford to do against an England side that will test them for 80 minutes.

    Coming off a pool stage that included wins against France and Lebanon, as well as a competitive loss to Australia, England came up against Papua New Guinea in the quarter-final, whom they managed to beat convincingly in Melbourne on Sunday afternoon.

    However, their completion rate was appalling with a whopping 18 errors! This will need to be rectified urgently, as Tonga is a good enough side to make England pay for making such a massive amount of mistakes.

    Key players
    Jason Taumalolo is obviously Tonga’s best player. But since him having a great game is as much a given as Ben Roberts kicking the ball dead, I’d rather highlight Ata Hingano as Tonga’s key man.

    If Tonga doesn’t put the English under pressure from the get-go, they won’t win. As the halfback, Hingano’s decision-making will largely determine Tonga’s ability to build pressure. He’ll need to make the right decisions in the clutch moments, or else Tonga can kiss any chances of a World Cup Final berth goodbye.

    For England, their key player is Gareth Widdop. He’s in the somewhat less familiar role of fullback having spent the bulk of his NRL career in the halves. But as a fullback for England, his role in attack is very similar to the role he plays at St George Illawarra – providing that link between the players in the middle and the outside backs.

    England’s attack revolves around Widdop. He had a hand in four of England’s seven tries against the Kumuls last week, and he was popping up in attack on both sides of the field.

    Widdop forced the most goal-line dropouts in the NRL this year with 26. As such, look for him to exert pressure on the Tongans at every chance he gets. If he does this successfully, Tonga could be in for a tough night at the office.

    Gareth Widdop England Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRLPhotos/Gregg Porteous)

    Who will win and why?
    I believe the outcome of this match will come down to which side can exert the most pressure. I also believe that England’s ability to do that far exceeds that of the Tongans, mostly due to who is lining up in the halves for each side.

    So far in this World Cup, the yardage game of the Tongan forwards has the most vital ingredient in their victory recipe. But this English pack presents a challenge the likes of which has not yet been faced by the Tongans.

    I think the Tongan forwards will dominate early while Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and Sio Siua Taukeiaho are on the field. But they will all be off after 20-30 minutes, at which point I expect England to start wrestling back the momentum off the back of impact by Tom Burgess and Alex Walmsley, as well as some big minutes from Sam Burgess and James Graham.

    Each backline is also littered with class. Ryan Hall, Jermaine McGillvary, John Bateman and Kallum Watkins are all capable of individual brilliance, as are Michael Jennings, Konrad Hurrell, David Fusitua and Daniel Tupou. Judging by those backlines, there could be plenty of length-of-the-field efforts in this game.

    What happens from there is anyone’s guess. This match is very unpredictable because both sides got to the semi-final stage without playing their best football. Consequently, it’s difficult to really know what either side is capable of.

    Ultimately, I think that England should scrape home in a tight one, mostly due to superiority in key positions. But at the risk of getting splinters in my bum, it wouldn’t shock me at all to see Tonga win. After all, superiority in key positions didn’t prevent England from making 18 errors against Papua New Guinea. If England gives away that much ball this weekend I think Tonga could really punish them.

    Jason Taumalolo Tonga Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRLPhotos/Scott Davis)

    I predict that England will win by 30-26 in a high-scoring, end-to-end affair. This prediction comes without a shred of confidence. But the one thing that I am sure of is that this will be one hell of a game.

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    The Crowd Says (16)

    • November 23rd 2017 @ 6:08am
      Go warriors said | November 23rd 2017 @ 6:08am | ! Report

      Tonga v England what a match that is going to be. I heard it could be the biggest crowd ever at Mt Smart stadium. Atmosphere will be incredible.

      Also hoping Fiji can put in another good performance and give the aussies a good run.

    • November 23rd 2017 @ 8:35am
      Andrew said | November 23rd 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      Your scoreline may turn out to be correct, but England’s defence has been very “bend don’t break” and while they have given up the metres they have defended their line well. They have only conceded 40 points in four games so while Tonga have found scoring quite easy, they may need to acknowledge that they may need to keep their opponent below 20-22 points to win – which they haven’t done in their last two starts.

      That said, between England errors (which there have been plenty of in dry conditions, so if they get a wet track in Auckland they are in trouble) and the metres the Tongan forwards should make, i think your man Hingano does become a key player. Tonga should get plenty of attacking kick opportunities and they have a significant leaping advantage on the flanks with their tall timber casting shadows over Hall and McGillvery. So taking advantage of this will be important.

    • November 23rd 2017 @ 9:18am
      Cathar Treize said | November 23rd 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      Looking forward to the ‘Tongan’ atmosphere plus throw in the English fans, the decibels for this game should be through the roof!

    • November 23rd 2017 @ 9:52am
      uglykiwi said | November 23rd 2017 @ 9:52am | ! Report

      Cmon Fiji; I hope Fiji just win because of the headline; typical Aussies!! assuming they have won before the game has even begin!

      • November 23rd 2017 @ 12:13pm
        Fred said | November 23rd 2017 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

        Your head would have to say Australia for this game, but it is a quality Fijian side nonetheless.

      • November 23rd 2017 @ 1:58pm
        Dr Chop said | November 23rd 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

        Only in rugby league mate

        • November 23rd 2017 @ 7:41pm
          Fred said | November 23rd 2017 @ 7:41pm | ! Report

          It’s a rugby league article mate.

    • November 23rd 2017 @ 10:46am
      Jimmmy said | November 23rd 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

      England should win this but if Tonga can play that up tempo power game for most of the match with some reasonable ball security look out. . ,!,,,!
      The Tongans also need to kick well because the Poms will ,, Can’t wait.

    • Roar Rookie

      November 23rd 2017 @ 11:38am
      marty beauchamp said | November 23rd 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

      I agree totally about the Tongan forwards being different class to the English to begin the match. On top of that I think Taukeiaho playing 50 – 60 minutes this time makes them favourites to take out a tight match.

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