Tonga leave their mark on France
Tonga may have bowed out of the World Cup, but they left their mark on the tournament with the biggest upset of 2011 - a 19-14 Pool A win over top-ranked France in Wellington on Saturday.
In what many pundits felt is one of the biggest upsets in the history of the World Cup, Tonga held a 19-9 win going into injury time - before a late, desperate try by wing Vincent Clerk, earned the French a losing bonus point that booked their place in the quarterfinals.
For many this win was on par with Fiji beating Wales in 2007, but the only difference is that four years ago Fiji's win saw them advance to the play-offs (at the expense of the Welsh), while Tonga bowed out despite Saturday's great win.
However, the significance of the result - both or the morale of the Island nation and that of their more fancied French counterparts - should not be discounted.
It was a historic and momentous occasion to rival the many Pacific Island upsets of past World Cup tournament.
The South Sea Islanders hurried and harried the French into a catalogue of errors, combining an impressive physical defence with flashes of brilliance in attack, scrumhalf Taniela Moa their motor around the park.
But the Tongans needed to win with a bonus point to have any chance of advancing to the quarterfinals alongside unbeaten group leaders New Zealand.
France, besieged all week by rumours of internal strife between management and players, will instead progress as runners-up after bagging a bonus point for finishing within seven points of Tonga.
A try by Sukanaivalu Hufanga, who plies his trade for French fifth division club Bergerac, allied with four penalties and one conversion from Kurt Morath, were enough to see off three Dimitri Yachvili penalties and an injury-time Vincent Clerc try.
Yachvili opened the scoring in the second minute with a penalty after Morath strayed offside, the Tongan flyhalf levelling the scores after prop Jean-Baptiste Poux was penalised for a ruck infringement.
Livewire Moa, outstanding alongside No.8 Viliami Ma'afu, pinched a French line-out at the back and kicked ahead into space, only fine scrambling defence by Alexis Palisson thwarting the scrumhalf.
Morath missed a second effort in the 18th minute but Yachvili made no mistake after referee Steve Walsh judged a tackle on Morgan Parra as being high.
The crowd erupted, however, when a clever cross-field kick from Morath, after another Moa break, bounced perfectly for Hufanga, who fended off Thierry Dusautoir's tackle to score in the corner. Morath added the extras to make it 10-6.
The French went close with a driving maul from a line-out on the half-hour mark but a solid Tongan defence stood firm.
Morath added a second penalty as France's defensive line was called offside, but Tonga then suffered a blow when Hufanga was harshly yellow-carded for a supposed tip tackle on Vincent Clerc.
The flyhalf saw another penalty drift wide early in the second-half, but Yachvili notched his third after Alisona Taumalolo's late tackle on Parra, the prop lucky to stay on the field.
The French continued to struggle to get into the game, the harrying Tongan defence handing the South Sea Islanders dominance.
Morath, however, was not having the greatest game with the boot and missed a third kickable penalty.
When Siale Piutau broke cover, the centre spurned the simple pass for a sure try to throw the ball out too far and a sure try-scoring opportunity went begging.
With 15 minutes to play, replacement Fabrice Estebanez was then sent to the bin for a spear tackle on Joseph Tuineau, Morath kicking the penalty to make it 16-9.
Morath stretched the lead to 10 points when the French were again ruled offside, this time in front of their own posts.
There was still time for Samiu Vahafolau to make a complete botch of a clear run-in for a try as the Tongans again squandered a chance for a second five-pointer, and Morath to miss a fourth shot at goal.
France ensured their progression with Clerc's late try in the corner.
Man of the match: You want to nominate all 22 Tongan players, as they battled bravely for more than 80 minutes. However, the most influential player on the day was No.8 Viliami Ma'afu - the man who most often took the ball up for Tonga, and over the advantage line, he made a host of tackles, attended to numerous ricks and even managed a 25-metre clearance kick.
Moment of the match: The try of Sukanaivalu Hufanga was special, and there were a number of occasions when the Tongan tackles rocked the French, but for us the most significant was in the dying stages when Tonga's replacement prop Alisona Taumalolo was encouraging the French to take yet another five-metre scrum ... celebrating just before every set piece got set down, as he realised the French were a beaten bunch.
Villain of the match: We will not give this 'medal' out today, but referee Steve Walsh came close to winning it with the ridiculous call to issue a yellow card to Fabrice Estebanez for a spear/tip tackle. He and his assistants had probably painted themselves into a corner earlier when they issued a dubious yellow to Tongan Sukanaivalu Hufanga.
Pens: Yachvili 3
Pens: Morath 4
Yellow cards: Sukanaivalu Hufanga (Tonga, 38 - foul play, spear tackle), Fabrice Estebanez (France, 65 - foul play, spear tackle)
France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Raphael Lakafia, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Imanol Harinordoquy, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 Fabrice Estebanez, 22 Cédric Heymans.
Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Viliame Iongi, 13 Siale Piutau, 12 Andrew Ma'ilei, 11 Sukanaivalu Hufanga, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Finau Maka (captain), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Paino Hehea, 4 Tukulua Lokotui, 3 Kisi Pulu, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ephraim Taukafa, 17 Alisona Taumalolo, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 Joseph Tuineau, 20 Samiu Vahafolau, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Alipate Fatafehi.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Dave Pearson (England), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
AFP & rugby365.com