Tonga hope for recognition
Tonga were left basking in a famous victory over France at the World Cup on Saturday, even though an earlier pool defeat to Canada had left them too much to do to assure a quarterfinal berth.
The Tongans, whose first match against a Tier One nation since the 2007 World Cup was their Pool A opener against the All Blacks last month, dominated a poor French team and ran out worthy 19-14 winners.
The Tongan forwards ran the roost at contact time and the backs positively sparkled in attack, a host of try-scoring opportunities going begging in the final quarter as France's handling errors merely multiplied.
The victory left coach Isitolo Maka, capped four times for the All Blacks, hoping for more recognition from the International Rugby Board (IRB), the sport's world governing body.
"I have a lot of respect for the French team, but when you play against the French, you don't know which team is going to turn up," said Maka, a two-time European Cup champion in Toulouse's colours.
"If they turn up they can beat anyone in the world, but tonight certainly they didn't turn up."
After losing 41-10 to New Zealand in their opening match, Tonga suffered a surprise 25-20 defeat to Canada, something Maka said had acted as a spur to "perform very well against Japan and we did really well tonight".
"We really targeted Canada and Japan, and we're really paying the price now. We should have won that game [against Canada].
"We could have made the quarter-finals but there's nothing you can do now, it's all in the past and we can only look forward to next year. We can't complain, it's all done and dusted."
The victory over France, Six Nations heavyweights and two-time World Cup finalists, was "very, very important for the Pacific Island teams", Maka said.
"For us to beat France is very special, it's good for Tongan rugby and our people and our supporters.
"I'm hoping this win will help move our rugby forward and hopefully the IRB can give us a Test against a Tier One nation next year."
The stoney-faced Maka, who said he was "dancing on the inside", added: "The win tonight, few people know what it means to me.
"In Tonga right now, they're going crazy and we're going to get a lot of support when we get to Auckland. This World Cup has really come alive."
Maka also defended his team's decision to take pots at goal and not go for the three more tries that would have guaranteed them a bonus point and a chance to qualify for the quarters, saying victory was the essential.
"We knew we couldn't score three tries in the final eight minutes and what was important was winning the game, so we decided to kick the goals," said Maka.
Tonga's Perpignan prop Kisi Pulu, one of several islanders plying their trade in France, said team spirit had helped them through.
"We've been confident and we have a lot of young guys and we're always believing in ourselves that we could upset one of the biggest teams in the world," Pulu said.
"We are going to celebrate with kava. Traditionally the Tonga players have one cup each -- and we have got our families coming down for the night."