Gutsy Tongans score moral victory
Tongan captain Finau Maka praised a gutsy and disciplined second-half performance from his teammates in the opening game of the World Cup which helped secure their best-ever result against the All Blacks.
The Sea Eagles restricted the hosts to 41-10, their closest game in four encounters with the All Blacks dating back to 1999, and even managed to score a hard-earned try after 15 minutes camped on the opposition tryline.
Tonga's average result against the pre-tournament favourites had been a 74-point deficit, but Maka's men frustrated New Zealand in the second half with the highly impressive replacement prop Alisona Taumalolo barging over after a long spell of pressure.
"The boys came out firing in the second half. We knew that the All Blacks were going to come back like they did in the first half," said the captain.
"I'm just really proud that the boys came back in the second half and even scored a try against a team like the All Blacks. The last time Tonga played the All Blacks (in Brisbane in 2003) the All Blacks scored 99 points so I'm just really proud our boys scored a try."
Coach Isitolo Maka, an ex-All Black who is also the captain's brother, lamented a nervy start by his team as the All Blacks ran in four dazzling tries in an exhibition display before the break.
"I'm happy the score is only 41 points but the way we played in the first half, I'm disappointed. We trained well all week and a few mistakes, missed tackles and you see the score. The second half was a lot better," he said.
"I believe tonight a few of our new players were a bit short as they showed in the first half. I just hope those guys will front up next Wednesday," the coach added.
The World Cup's opening has provided a boost for the impoverished Pacific kingdom, with thousands of members of the Tongan community giving an ecstatic welcome to their team in Auckland this week.
And Jonah Lomu, the All Blacks legend of Tongan descent, played a starring role in Friday's opening ceremony just minutes before kick-off.
"The support from the Tongan community is huge - we take our hats off to them and all Tongans around the world," said the coach.
However, All Blacks coach Graham Henry was less than impressed with Tonga's grinding forward play, which subdued large parts of the Eden Park crowd on the World Cup's opening night.
"I don't think anyone enjoyed it - it was a very boring part of the game," Henry said. "I think everybody watching would have agreed with that. The less repeats we have of that, the better."