Breakdown work paid off for Tonga, says coach
The week of hard graft spent improving Tonga’s competitiveness at the breakdown paid off for coach Isitolo Maka on Wednesday as he watched his huge pack preserve their slim hopes of a first World Cup quarter-final.
Tonga were too big and too strong for Japan at the Northland Events Centre as they powered their way to a 31-18 Pool A victory, claiming nine turnovers at the breakdown without giving up one.
“Watching the Japanese play they are so quick at second and third phase but we worked really hard last week on players making tackles and getting up on to try and contest for the ball or slow it down for the Japanese,” Maka told reporters.
“It really, really helped for us tonight. I think that was the big turning point, we made a lot of turnovers out of it because our tacklers were not just making their tackles but up on their feet and putting pressure on them.”
But as pleased as Maka was by his side’s performance on a dry and chilly Wednesday night north of Auckland, he acknowledged the Japanese had led to their own downfall.
“I was expecting a lot more confrontation at the breakdown by the Japanese. They were so quick to the breakdown (before) but I didn’t see that tonight,” Maka said.
The huge pack were expertly led by flyhalf Kurth Morath who kicked 16 points and kept the Tongan attacks driving up the middle of Japan’s defence, another ploy Maka said his side had worked on.
“The reason why we went with Morath at flyhalf tonight because we wanted to keep it around our big forward pack not to run them around all the time,” Maka said.
As Tonga ploughed away on their training drills over the week since they lost to Canada, Japan were resting weary bodies having been beaten heavily by hosts and tournament favourites New Zealand on Friday.
Maka acknowledged the rest period, a contentious issue amongst the second and third tier nations at the World Cup, had been a big factor.
“I think it really helped, it happened to us last week, playing New Zealand on Friday and then to take on Canada on Wednesday,” Maka said of the quick turnaround.
“The seven days break really, really helped us and I’m sure it doesn’t really help Japan for tonight.”
Tonga will enjoy an even longer break before they take on France in Wellington on Oct. 1 where they could, if results go their way, have a chance of reaching the last eight.
“We have one more game left and we have nothing to lose, especially to play against a team like France,” Maka said after their first win of the tournament.
“The win tonight will give us big confidence.”
Japan coach John Kirwan was disappointed by his team’s performance after they had talked up their chances of only their second World Cup win and first in 20 years.
“The breakdown is probably the area that cost us tonight,” a dejected Kirwan said.
“It came down to too many turnovers from ruck pressure.”