Tonga, the 20th and final side to start their Rugby World Cup 2023 campaign, do so on Saturday in Nantes, against one of the tournament favourites.

Andy Farrell’s Ireland will want to consolidate on their impressive 12-try 82-8 win over Romania in their opening match with a second victory ahead of matches against South Africa, the defending champions, and Scotland in their final two Pool B games.

Tonga are the only one of the three Pacific Island nations that have played at Rugby World Cups not to have yet made it past the pool stage, but Ireland will be aware they cannot take their opponents lightly. 

As such, and depending on your point of view, Farrell has either taken no chances by naming a very strong 23 for the match, or several chances given Irish ambition and the matches to come.

FIXTURE: Ireland v Tonga

GROUND: Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes (35,520)

KICK-OFF: 21:00 local time (GMT+2)


This is just the third-ever meeting between the two sides. Their first came at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, when Ireland won 32-9 in Brisbane. 

Ireland also won 40-19 in their only other meeting during a summer tour in 2003.


Brendan Mullin scored a hat-trick and Hugo MacNeill touched down twice as Ireland cruised to victory at Brisbane’s Ballymore some 36 years ago.

But Tonga will look to another Rugby World Cup match for inspiration - against France in 2011, one of the biggest upsets in Rugby World Cup history, as fly-half Kurt Morath kicked four penalties and converted Sukanaivalu Hufanga's try as the Pacific islanders beat that year’s eventual finalists 19-14.


Even without former Wallaby Israel Folau and Tonga’s leading Rugby World Cup try scorer Telusa Veainu, who are both injured, the ‘Ikale Tahi are reaping the benefits of the changes in World Rugby’s eligibility laws. They have called up former All Blacks Salesi Piutau, Vaea Fifita, Malakai Fekitoa, Augustine Pulu and George Moala to their squad. The latter is currently serving a suspension, but Tonga will still be able to field a strong side that Ireland will need to be wary of. 


Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki v Malakai Fekitoa and Pita Ahki. Both Tongan midfielders have knowledge of the Irish game. The former spent last season at Munster before switching to Treviso, while the former - now at Toulouse - was at Connacht alongside one half of the Irish centre duo, Aki. The battle for control of the centre will be one to watch.


Ireland topped many a stat chart after the first block of games at Rugby World Cup 2023. They made more metres than any other side (1,091) in their 82-8 win over Romania; more linebreaks (21), offloaded more (23 times), were fastest recycling from rucks (2.17 seconds), and passed more (280 completed passes).

Meanwhile, Bundee Aki topped the individual records for metres made (240), linebreaks (five) and break passes (three). 


Wayne Barnes (England). No referee has taken charge of as many internationals as Wayne Barnes - who overtook Nigel Owens’ record of 100 tests when he had the whistle for France-South Africa in Marseille in November 2022. He is also the only referee to feature in five Rugby World Cups.


IRELAND Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen,Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain), Conor Murray; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong; Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan; Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris

Replacements: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Ryan Baird, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Robbie Henshaw 

TONGA Salesi Piutau; Afusipa Taumoepeau, Malakai Fekitoa, Pita Ahki, Solomone Kata; William Havili, Augustine Pulu; Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Paula Ngauamo, Ben Tameifuna (captain); Sam Lousi, Halaleva Fifita; Tanginoa Halaifonua, Sione Talitui, Vaea Fifita

Replacements: Sam Moli, Tau Koloamatangi, Sosefo Apikotoa, Semisi Paea, Solomone Funaki, Sione Vailanu, Sonatane Takul, Fine Inisi