Don’t make the mistake of thinking that there’s nothing to play for in the penultimate match of the pool phase.
No, Pool B opponents Tonga and Romania haven’t won a match at Rugby World Cup 2023, despite determined performances against Ireland, Scotland and South Africa. But neither side will want to return home without any pool points to show for their efforts in France.
Romania head coach Eugen Apjok has named hooker Ovidiu Cojocaru as first-time captain – in his 34th international – in a team showing nine changes from the defeat to Scotland. Number eight Cristi Chirica, who has led Romania throughout RWC 2023, drops out of the matchday 23 altogether, with Andre Gorin replacing him at the back of the pack.
Meanwhile, former All Black George Moala is set to make a belated Rugby World Cup debut at the age of 32 in a starting Tongan XV that shows six changes of personnel and one positional switch. As well as Moala, ex-Wallaby Adam Coleman makes his first start of RWC 2023, the day after his 32nd birthday, after two bench appearances in the only change to the front-five.
History suggests that the two sides will be very evenly matched in Lille - while the lure of finishing their campaigns with a win will be a big one.
FIXTURE: Tonga v Romania
GROUND: Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille (50,096)
KICK-OFF: 17:45 local time (GMT+2)
Since their first meeting in 2013, the teams have faced each other on four occasions, winning two apiece. Romania won the most recent of those matches, 32-20 in Bucharest two years ago. But the other three matches all finished within a score
Four unanswered Daniel Plai penalties between the 55th and 78th minutes in Bucharest in November 2021 were the difference as Romania won their most recent match against Tonga, during a difficult COVID-19-affected tour for ’Ikale Tahi. Until then the two sides had been inseparable on the scoreboard.
KEY TALKING POINT
Romania are in danger of setting a new record for the fewest points scored at a Rugby World Cup, having scored just eight in their three games to date. The Oaks share that dubious honour with Canada at the moment, both having scored only 14 points in 1995 and 2019 respectively.
Sonatane Takulua v Florin Surugiu. Takulua, Tonga’s most-capped player, has been handed his first start at Rugby World Cup 2023 and the captaincy. Opposite him, and also on his first start of the tournament, Romania’s experienced scrum-half. Surugiu will draw level with Mihai Macovei as Romania’s third most-capped player (104 caps) – behind Catalin Fercu (109) and former half-back partner, Florin Vlaicu (129).
It has been 237 minutes since Romania scored their one and only try so far in France - by Gabriel Rupanu in the third minute of their opening match against Ireland.
Angus Gardner (Australia). In his two matches at RWC 2023 to date, Gardner has blown for 35 penalties: 21 in favour of the attacking team, and 14 in favour of the defence.
TONGA Salesi Piutau; Solomone Kata, George Moala, Pita Ahki, Afusipa Taumoepeau; William Havili, Sonatane Takulua (captain); Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Paula Ngauamo, Ben Tameifuna; Halaleva Fifita, Adam Coleman; Semisi Paea, Sione Talitui, Sione Vailanu
Replacements: Sione Anga'aelangi, Paula Latu, Siate Tokolahi, Sitiveni Mafi, Penitoa Finau, Manusiu Paea, Patrick Pellegrini, Kyren Taumoefolau
ROMANIA Marius Simionescu; Nicholas Onutu, Tevita Manumua, Fonovai Tangimana, Taliauli Sikuea; Alin Conache, Florin Surugiu; Alexandru Savin, Ovidiu Cojocaru (captain), Alexandru Gordas; Adrian Motoc, Marius Iftimiciuc; Vlad Neculau, Cristi Boboc, Andre Gorin
Replacements: 16 Robert Irimescu, Iulian Hartig, Costel Burtila, Florian Rosu, Damian Stratila, Gabriel Rupanu, Alexandru Bucur, Mihai Graure