Underperforming Tonga aim to make history at World Cup

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu
Tonga coach Toutai Kefu
Image: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Aside from a glorious upset win over France in 2011, Tonga have failed to impress at the Rugby World Cup, but coach Toutai Kefu is intent on changing that in Japan.

The Pacific islanders have qualified for seven of the eight previous World Cups and been eliminated in the pool stage on each occasion.

They have won a total of just seven matches at rugby's global showpiece, with the highlight a 19-14 victory over eventual finalists Les Bleus in New Zealand in 2011.

It's a record that bothers Kefu, a Tongan-born former number eight who earned 60 Test caps for Australia in a career that included a World Cup crown in 1999.

"I'm fixated on making the play-offs, we need to win three (pool) games for that," he said.

To reach the last eight, Tonga must not only make history but tear up the form book in Pool C which also includes England, France, Argentina and USA.

Kefu's team are ranked 15th in the world, the lowest in a pool that has inevitably been dubbed "the group of death".

"We're in a tough pool, there's no doubt about it," he said.

"We just need to get together and believe in what we're doing and believe that we can make it. I certainly think we can."

The Tonga Rugby Union said when Kefu took over his appointment was about building credibility for the game after a difficult period that saw World Rugby forced to prop up the organisation in 2016 with a rescue package.

His presence has encouraged overseas-based players to commit themselves to Tonga.

"We've brought together some really exciting players who are all very passionate about representing Tonga and the red jersey on the biggest stage in our sport," he said.

"Our squad is comprised of players who play in some of the top competitions around the world including the English Premiership, the Top 14 and Super Rugby."

Tonga lost a warm-up against Fiji 29-19 in late-August but Kefu said he was pleased with the overall performance in a match where his team dominated possession and the set piece.

"We're confident in the way we're going at the moment," he said.

"Even though we had a loss there's some really good stuff that we did. We've come a long way just in two weeks we've had since the Pacific Nation Cup."