WHANGAREI, New Zealand — Tonga poured fuel on the fiery debate over World Cup scheduling as they maintained a longer break between games was a key factor in their upset win over Japan.
Coach Isitolo Maka said Tonga’s full week of preparations “really helped” achieve the 31-18 victory, which snapped a five-year losing streak against the Brave Blossoms.
The comments come after Samoan centre Eliota Sapolu Fuimaono was reprimanded for calling the schedule, which gives big teams more time off, “unfair treatment, like slavery, like the holocaust, like apartheid”.
“I think it’s really helped. It happened to us last week — after playing New Zealand Friday, we take on Canada Wednesday. In our plan we had to make a lot of changes for that,” Maka said.
“But the seven days’ break really helped us and I’m sure it didn’t really help for Japan tonight.”
“We trained well this week, everyone was just going at each other, smashing each other and I think that really helped us for tonight,” he added.
Scheduling has become a sore point with lesser sides at the World Cup after organisers chose to let established nations play nearly all their games on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to maximise TV audiences.
Tonga were left bitterly disappointed last Wednesday when they slumped 20-25 to Canada, just five days after opening the tournament with a gritty display against New Zealand.
Samoa’s Sapolu Fuimaono cried foul after they had only three days to prepare for Sunday’s game against Six Nations power Wales, who had not played for a week and dominated the second half to win 17-10.
And it was Japan’s turn to feel hard done by in Whangarei as they came off second-best to their Pacific Nations Cup rivals, after also facing the All Blacks five days earlier.
“It’s not something that we like to say was an issue for us but having a longer turnaround was a lot better for us,” said Tonga fly-half Kurt Morath.
“I guess (for) the smaller nations… maybe the squads aren’t as strong as some of the top teams, so putting out the same 22 every week puts a bit of a toll on the boys
“So maybe there’s something they can change there. Maybe if they have a few longer turnarounds, especially for the lower-ranked teams, it would give them a chance.”
Japan coach John Kirwan said there were “no excuses” for his team, although he admitted it was difficult to prepare for their target match of the World Cup just a few days after Friday’s 83-7 mauling by New Zealand.
“Tonga certainly had a longer preparation than us for this game but there’s no excuses,” Kirwan said.
“We have no excuses for tonight, we got beaten at the ruck. We just have to get up tomorrow and keep working towards winning our first game in 20 years.”
Tonga were also relieved that they now have more than a week to prepare for their final Pool A game against France on October 1, where they now have an outside chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals.
“We’ve got one game left and we’ve got nothing to lose, especially playing against a team like France which is number four in the world,” said Maka.
“I’m sure the win tonight will give us big confidence to take them on.”
- By Talek Harris (AFP)