PREVIEW: Tonga v Wales

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 10:01
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Wales centre Jamie Roberts is excited about the young talent on display for Wales when they face Tonga at Eden Park on Friday.

The Welsh have a number of experienced players on British and Irish Lions duty, which means Roberts will be leading a young matchday 23 out for Friday's encounter.

"There are three uncapped players starting and six more on the bench," Roberts told wru.co.uk.

"It's an incredibly exciting time in their careers.

"To have that many in one squad is rare, but their enthusiasm and willingness to learn has stood out.

"They're ready to question things that are wrong. As a young player, it's easy to keep your mouth shut and not say anything, but they're not doing that. Competition is what you need and we've had some good sessions. I told the lads we've come out here to win two Tests.

"We're a 32-man squad and not a 23. Everyone has to front up and deliver for the squad."

Roberts said it will be a special occasion for the new players to win their first Test caps at a venue like Eden Park.

"Eden Park is an amazing venue. The week after our game the Lions are playing their first Test there and it's one of the best stadiums in world rugby. 

"Having played there last summer [June], you appreciate how much of a special place it is. For the young guys to win their first cap there will be something they remember for the rest of their lives.

"I'm delighted for them and I'm looking forward to going out there and winning with this group. Robin [McBryde] refers to the young players as "bulls" but it's important we're all on the same page. We have come here to perform and win," said Roberts.

Roberts is also embracing the captaincy challenge for the June tour.

"I'm hugely honoured to captain the side. It's something I've never done for Wales, so this game will be one I look back on in my career with great fondness," Roberts said.

"I want this squad to have the time of their life playing for Wales. It's vital we win. I remember my first tour in 2008 and how much enthusiasm I had. I remember how much the older guys helped me. That's a huge part of touring and that's something I've tried to recreate here.

"Rugby is a sport which enables you to travel and not many careers give you that. You have to embrace the opportunity to play sport on the other side of the world."

Players to watch: 

For Tonga: Wings Cooper Vuna and Nafi Tuitavake can do a lot of damage when given too much space, while loose forward Nili Latu is robust in the physical stuff.

For Wales: Centre Jamie Roberts has years of experience and is a strong ball runner in that midfield. Fullback Gareth Anscombe and wing Alex Cuthbert are deadly on the counterattack.

Head to head: The battle in the midfield should be an intriguing one. Captain and centre Jamie Roberts is a classy player and he will surely target that area of the game.

Recent results: 

2013: Wales won 17-7, Cardiff
2003: Wales won 27-20, Canberra (WC pool match)
2001: Wales won 51-7, Cardiff
1997: Wales won 46-12, Swansea
1994: Wales won 18-9, Nuku A'lofa
1987: Wales won 29-16, Palmerston North (WC pool match)
1986: Wales won 15-7, Nuku A'lofa

Prediction: It will be tough out there. However, Wales will have too much class for the Tongans and they should win by 10 points at least. 

Teams:

Tonga: 15 David Halaifonua, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Siale Piutau (captain), 12 Viliami Tahitua, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Latiume Fosita, 9 Tane Takalua, 8 Valentino Mapapalangi, 7 Nili Latu, 6 Dan Faleafa, 5 Sitiveni Mafi, 4 Leva Fifita, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Latu Talakai.
Replacements: 16 Suliasi Taufalele, 17 Sila Puafisi, 18 Phil Kite, 19 Sione Tau, 20 Michael Faleafa, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Kali Hala, 23 Kitione Taimani.

Wales: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts (captain), 11 Steffan Evans, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Ellis Jenkin, 20 Ollie Griffiths, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Cory Allen.

Date: Friday, June 16
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 17.30 (06.30 BST; 05.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Light cloud cover can be expected with a gentle breeze. A low of 10°C and a high of 16°C.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Source: wru.co.uk