Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Boks’ World Cup ‘pool of death’ now tougher with stronger Tonga

The Boks could find themselves up against some very familiar faces when they take on the Tongans in their World Cup pool match.

The Springboks already knew that they had been drawn in the so-called “pool of death” at this year’s World Cup in France, but it is going to be even tougher than they imagined.

With only two teams out of the five able to progress from pool B to the competition knockouts, the Boks were already tasked with the challenge of facing Ireland and Scotland to reach the quarterfinals.

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However, due to World Rugby’s recent change to regulation 8, which allows players who have already represented other international teams to change allegiance if they meet certain criteria, Tonga have suddenly become a dark horse in the pool.

‘Very fair’

Over the past few months the Pacific Island side have been stacking their squad with former All Black and Wallaby internationals and they will pose a further threat to the Boks’ hopes of defending their World Cup title.

“Originally we voted against it (regulation 8), but when you see what is happening with the Tongan team you can’t help feeling it is very fair,” admitted SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus at a Springbok press conference earlier this week.

“It is fair for them to bring guys who were born there but have played for another country back to play international rugby for them.

“These are teams who were viewed as minnows, and lesser favourites in their World Cup groups. But all of a sudden you have world class players who have been playing top class rugby for other countries and in big competitions, coming into their teams and strengthening them.”

Familiar faces

The Boks could find themselves up against some very familiar faces when they take on the Tongans in their pool match.

Former Wallaby star Israel Folau, along with Lopeti Timani and Adam Coleman, who both represented Australia at the previous World Cup, as well as former All Blacks Charles Piutau, Vaea Fifita, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala and Augustine Pulu are all in the Tongan squad for the showpiece event.

‘Actually glad’

Despite the tougher challenge, Erasmus claimed that the Boks were happier to face stronger opposition as it would prepare them better should they reach the knockouts of the competition.

“I do think that sometimes having really weak teams in your pool doesn’t help you a lot when you get into a quarterfinal or semi-final,” said Erasmus.

“So I am actually glad that they are getting stronger. If you name some of those players in the Tongan team it is going to be tough and one hell of a match.

“We like the fact that we won’t be going up and down in terms of the quality of opposition we face at the World Cup this year, as now it will be steadier and hopefully that will help us if we get into the knockouts.”

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