Tonga did not face any tier-one opposition ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which has hurt their preparations for the tournament.
The Pacific Islanders faced Japan, Samoa and Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup before playing back-to-back matches against Canada, who failed to qualify for the World Cup.
The ʻIkale Tahi faced world number one Ireland in their Pool B opener and were soundly beaten 59-16 by Andy Farrell’s charges, that fixture coming an entire month after their final warm-up game against Canada.
Tonga assistant coach Dale MacLeod believes they were not sufficiently prepared for the World Cup because his side did not face tier-one opposition.
Ahead of their second World Cup fixture against Scotland, MacLeod was asked if they needed a match against one of the Rugby Championship or Six Nations sides as a warm-up game.
“One hundred percent,” MacLeod said. “I think we are the only team who didn’t play a tier one nation or come early and play a game.
“We tried to organise one, but then they couldn’t do it. I suppose we got two games against Canada – you have to do what you have to do.
“It didn’t set us up for where we needed to be, but when you go into a World Cup and you’ve had a month off, that is tough for anyone.
He added: “We’ll be better next week, and the week after, we’ll probably be hitting [our stride] by our last game, which is not quite right.”
While MacLeod was clearly disappointed by the poor preparations, he is backing his side to claim their first win over Scotland in 11 years.
Tonga have lost their two most recent clashes with Scotland, going down 37-12 in 2014 and 60-14 in 2021.
However, in November 2012, the ʻIkale Tahi claimed a historic 15-21 victory at Murrayfield.
“The boys believe, and I think if we go back to Ireland, we were probably too eager, so we don’t really want to fizz the boys up too much,” he said.
“We want to keep them cool, calm and collected, for them go out and do their jobs. They are all very good rugby players.
“The boys believe we can beat anyone on the day, but if we don’t take our lessons from last week, then we are going to get the same result.”
MacLeod, who is also an automotive and marine engineer, says that the coaches and players took a lot of learnings from the loss to Ireland and expect Scotland to play a similar way against them.
“I expect Scotland to attack us in similar positions; we showed a few areas that cost us,” he explained.
“They are a team who like to play edge to edge; they have a very good kicking game. They’re going to chance their arms, they’re going to play, and they’re going to enjoy not having South Africans run at them.
“What will they fear from us? What everyone probably fears is just contact, the physical brutality the boys can bring, so they will be looking to humble that early and look to play their game.”
Meanwhile, Tonga have added Australian-born flyhalf Patrick Pellegrini and prop Siate Tokolahi to their Rugby World Cup squad as injury replacements, officials confirmed on Tuesday.
Pellegrini, 24, comes in for Otumaka Mausia and France-based Tokolahi, 31, replaces Feao Fotuaika, after both were ruled out of the rest of the tournament through injury.
Pellegrini plays for Coventry Rugby in the English second-tier and qualifies for Tonga through his mother. He has three test caps and was part of the squad in the build-up to the World Cup, but did not make the final cut.
Tonga lost their tournament opener 59-16 to Ireland in Nantes, where Mausia started at flyhalf, and are next in action against Scotland in Nice on Sunday.
Coach Toutai Kefu is scheduled to name his team to play the Scots on Friday.
SOURCE: PLANTE RUGBY/PACNEWS