The reflection of Tonga's 'Ikale Tahi team pretty much sums up their previous World Cup attempts in the past- a FAILURE. This failure goes from bad to worse and then to basically terrible!
IRB ranks Tonga in the 20's just behind Morocco, Korea and Namibia. The statistics shows it all. It is sad to see Tonga's national sport go down like this, when Georgia, Romania and Portugal's national sport is not Rugby Union and they are ranked 19,18 and 17 respectively. The excuse maybe on population per area but it really doesn't show it with the likes of Manu Samoa and Fiji.
You tend to wonder looking at the previous attempts in the World Cup challenges, that eveything was thrown into this team like foreign coaches, overseas players and financial support from the government. Yet the same results occurs. I believe the Tongan Rugby Union really needs to look hard at their infrastructure and development of the game. Yes, Rugby union has turned professional but for smaller unions like Tonga it is still an amatuer sport. The grass roots rugby has not been fully exploited and developed. School rugby teams are more disciplined than club's sides and can possibly beat their mentors. The jump from school rugby to club rugby is no gigantic leap, then a pool of club rugby players have a huge gap to face when they play International level. Therefore, inexperienced players get to play the likes of Severi and Brian Lima and be expected to be up to standard.
This leaves the question: has the national game been developed? Do we have to rely on overseas players? When Uruguay do not have a single Super 12 player but yet is ranked 15 in IRB standings!!!! Can funding save Tonga's pride? Do we need jerseys? That is how crazy 'Ikale Tahi has now become. As a Tongan I use to watch in pride if Tonga ever comes on the international scene. Now, it is diminishing like the respect the civil servants have towards our sinking Goverment.
The pride of Tonga will never be restored, unless systematic changes occur and occur fast. Issues to develop the game from the grass roots should be more emphasized and encouraged. School rugby should introduce age groups instead of the old weighing scehme, youngsters should be monitored and put into an international age group team to be developed.
A good example of change in infrastructure would be Manu Samoa. Since their induction in the World Cup Rugby in the 90's, this union has grown to be respected by the top 10 teams in the world. Their development of the game has been changed similar to NZ with the help of ex All Blacks like Michael Jones, Pita Fatialofa,Vainga Tuingamala and several NZ professionals. They focus on developing the game and now they can pick a handful of reserves that can be international standard from a pool national players. Countless Manu Samoa players like Semo Sititi played club rugby in Samoa, then got a contract to Super 12 and then British clubs, he was on the bench against Tonga this year!!!! Manu Samoa have so much depth of players and of high calibre that Tonga doesn't have? Why is this? Where are the local heros like the Lima's of Samoa and Severi of Fiji? Are the local players in decline?
Tonga's national sport support and crowd attendances have declined in the past years! I remember as a kid I couldn't wait to see Tonga play against Fiji and Samoa in the old Teufaiva stadium, when there were two fields and one grandstand. The Tongan national team then were very well respected and they played with pride and heart. They were proud of wearing the Red jerseys and would even die for it. Well, back to reality, the Red jerseys we have now needs a loan and more money to put on their bare backs!
Why utilize IRB funds on international tournaments that Tonga will not come anywhere in, when it could have been used right now for the Repechage! I see the need to develop the U21 and 7's , but why this year!!!! The year of Qualifying for the Rugby World Cup!!!!!!! Now the Tongan Rugby union shoots itself in the foot! A failed Qualifying round and now trying to get in again through Repechage and have a UK Tour!!!!! oops, with no Jerseys! LOL. If this was NZRU or ARU, the CEO would been either sacked or forced to resign because of this situation, aren't we lucky we are not those unions. No offence to Sakopo Lolohea and Viliami 'Ofahengaue, they are trying their best. But these questions should be asked. To develop the game in Tonga and bring it back to the once feared team.
Good luck to our 'Ikale Tahi Team and hope to see the Red Jerseys in France for the RWC.
RED DEVIL SUPPORTER
wtapeala [at] bigpond [dot] net [dot] au