The explosive number 8 won the Top 14 and Heineken Cup when he played for leading French club Toulouse, meaning many of Les Tricolores in Wellington on 1 October will be familiar faces.Before that, the Tongans could scarcely have a tougher first match: opening Rugby World Cup 2011 against the hosts, New Zealand, on 9 September. However, they can bank on plenty of support in Auckland, with its rich mix of Polynesian settlers.
The 30-man squad to New Zealand features several players who performed so admirably in 2007, winning two out of their four matches. They defeated USA and South Pacific rivals Samoa, performed respectably against finalists England, and came within five points of eventual champions South Africa.
Prop Soane Tonga'uiha will be a familiar sight to European viewers – his destructive scrummaging was instrumental in helping Northampton Saints reach the Heineken Cup final.New Zealand spectators will recognise another name – Fetu’u Vainikolo, the explosive winger who played Super Rugby for the Highlanders, scoring 13 tries in two seasons, and is now with Irish side Connacht.
Tonga squad for RWC 2011:Forwards: Halani Aulika, Taufa'ao Filise, Paino Hehea, Sione Kalamafoni, Tukulua Lokotui, Aleki Lutui, Viliami Ma'afu, Ilaisa Ma'asi, Finau Maka (captain), Kisi Pulu, Ephraim Taukafa, Alisona Taumalolo, Sione Timani, Soane Tonga'uiha, Joseph Tuineau, Samiu Vahafolau, Sione Vaiomounga.
Backs: Alipate Fatafehi, Samisoni Fisilau, William Helu, Sukanaivalu Hufanga, Viliame Iongi, Vungakoto Lilo, Andrew Ma'ilei, Taniela Moa, Kurt Morath, Thomas Palu, Siale Piutau, Alaska Taufa, Fetu'u Vainikolo.Squad subject to RWCL approval
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