Australia A’s upcoming clash with the Ikale Tahi brings back memories of a game like no other for Classic Wallabies Geoff Richardson and John Cole.
Both men played in the Wallabies’ 16-11 loss to Tonga back in 1973 – Richardson at flyhalf and Cole on the wing – and have joined the Australia A Tongan Tour to participate in community activations after reconnecting with a few old friends.
“I saw Toutai (Kefu) at the Queensland Reds luncheon a few weeks ago and he told me Aus A would be playing a game over here, thought maybe I could even get a start,” Richardson joked.
There’s been no shortage of nostalgia for the pair, who have fond memories of Tonga’s 1973 touring side – excluding their sole Test loss.
“We won the first Test in Sydney and NSW Country beat them earlier in the week but they really came up and did a number on us in Brisbane for the second Test,” Richardson said.
“They scored some tries and made some ground off our dropped ball, upset a few of our blokes in contact and tackled hard all day.
“I remember their scrum being very strong – they used the ball at the back well and Sione Mafi, who I rated as a world class Number 8, was brilliant on the day.
“At the end, they’d scored more points and that usually wins you the game.”
Cole recalls being bundled over the sideline on more than one occasion as the Tongans brought unmatched physicality to Ballymore.
“I actually watched the replay last week and I’m still amazed by the pressure they put us under – they made us look hopeless,” Cole said.
“They were enthusiastic from the start, came out fully charged and were the better team by far.”
Both men anticipate a fiery clash on Friday afternoon with Australia A v Tonga now confirmed to be broadcast free-to-air via NITV.
“It’s going to be a fantastic game and a tough physical challenge for the Australian players,” Cole said.
“Both sides are heading into a Rugby World Cup and there’s plenty to prove.”
Richardson added: “They’ve just about sold out the stadium so the atmosphere is going to be amazing and a real test for Australia A.”
“I’d love to see this team play more in the South Pacific – it’s a terrific pathway for our players and to face the likes of Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and the Maori All Blacks on a regular basis can only strengthen Australian rugby,” he said.