Tired Tongans must 'regroup'
After losses to the top-ranked All Blacks and Canada in the first five days of the World Cup, it's little wonder Taniela Moa was limping badly when he left the dressing room.
Moa played scrumhalf against New Zealand in the tournament's opening match, when his Tongans rallied after a first-half blitz to contain the All Blacks in the second half of a 41-10 defeat.
He was tasked with directing traffic from flyhalf in a reshuffled lineup featuring 11 new teammates against Canada in a match Tonga needed to win Wednesday to have a realistic chance of finishing in the top two in Pool A to advance to the quarterfinals.
"It's quite hard at the moment - we need some results to go our way," he said after the 25-20 loss. "In saying that, if we do, we've got a good enough team to make it.
"Everyone's disappointed with the result. Everyone's heads are down. But in saying that, we've got another game next week. This comp is too short for everyone to moan and groan - we need to get back on the horse and get a win over Japan."
A bigger than usual scrumhalf at 102 kilograms, he moved around freely and tried to spark a running game right from kickoff against Canada, showing no sign of the hamstring strain he picked up in training on the eve of the match.
He said it came with the territory, with two high-intensity games so quickly.
Canada coach Kieran Crowley will have to get his squad up for another match against France on Sunday and has complained that the quick turnarounds disadvantage the tier two nations against the leading teams, which all get a week between matches.
The Tongans get a week to regroup now to take on Japan back at Whangarei, where they draw a big crowd of fans for what is virtually a home game. More than 10,000 Tongans gridlocked the Auckland airport to welcome the team for the World Cup last week, and thousands traveled the two hours north for Wednesday's match, ensuring the Northland Events Centre was packed with a capacity 17,000 crowd.
Moa, who emerged on the test scene this year, thinks the extra rest before the third game will give his strained hamstring enough time to recover and set Tonga on course for a big last pool match against the French.
"We had 11 changes for this game, but we only trained once ... it was quite tough this week with the short turnaround and we didn't recover well," he said. "The long turnaround will help us now."
Moa did get the Tongans backs running, and he created a try on either side of half-time for centre Siale Piutau. First, with a long looping cut-out pass and then a neat inside ball for the second. That helped Tonga recover from a 10-nil deficit, scoring 20 of the next 23 points before Canada responded again with two late tries.
"We had them on the back foot. That last try Piutau scored, I was confident we were going to win the game," he said. "Every time we scored, I said we need to take our kickoff. The boys didn't do that, and it punished us."
Captain Finau Maka also played both matches and was feeling it late in the second half, when fatigue kicked in and the team's decision-making started faltering.
"Obviously disappointed. We were up at one point 20-13 and we just let it slip," he said. "Just not playing down their half in the second half. And just playing on the wrong side of the field."
He said it had been important to bring fresh players into the starting lineup and doesn't blame the wholesale team changes for the loss.
"Obviously we really wanted to win this game. And that was our aim. We came here to win," he said. "We've just got to pick it up again now for the next game."