Wales v Tonga: Ospreys prop Ma'afu Fia is only new starter

Ma'afu Fia
Ma'afu Fia joined Ospreys in the 2015-16 season and has made 62 appearences
Autumn international: Wales v Tonga
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 17 November Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, S4C, BBC Radio Wales, Radio Cymru, the BBC Sport website and app.

Ospreys prop Ma'afu Fia is the only uncapped player in the Tongan starting side to face Wales on Saturday.

The 27-year-old retains his place after featuring in the 49-38 Tongan win over French Barbarians in Bordeaux.

"I've been meaning to (bid for selection) for the last three years but bad timing and injuries got in the way," he said.

Castres lock Sitiveni Mafi replaces uncapped Sam 'Ulufonua in the only starting change from the French game.

The Tongan side, led by Bristol centre Siale Piutau, includes players based in France, England, Wales and New Zealand, though they lost key backs David Halifonua and Cooper Vuna just before the trip.

The heaviest player in their party, 24-stone prop Racing 92 Ben Tameifuna, misses out on selection.

"We were happy with the result (in Bordeaux), but there are a few areas to improve on, and we're heading in the right direction," coach Toutai Kefu told BBC Sport Wales.

"It's not the strongest Welsh team (against us), but they're still the Welsh team whoever wears the jersey, they're still Wales to me.

"They've a strong set-piece, they've a good kicking game, and they play territory really well. They don't give you much, so we're going to play territory ourselves.

"We need a strong set-piece, and we need to limit our turnovers."

Wales have won all eight meetings between the two countries, most recently by 24-6 in Auckland in 2017.

"We've just got to hold onto the ball and hold our discipline, we gave away a few penalties, just the basics, but we've been working on that," said scrum-half Tane Takulua.

"We've got a good combo (at half-back) with Kurt Morath, I'm used to playing with him and enjoying every moment with him, Victory would mean a lot, especially our family and our supporters back on the island, so we're looking forward to it."

Fia's story illustrates the difficulties encountered by the Pacific Islands teams in raising a full-strength side, with their players being spread between France, England, Wales and New Zealand.

Raising a young family in Europe, far from his Tongan birthplace or New Zealand where he was educated, has previously made it impossible for him to commit to time away with his country.

Now he will make a debut facing several of his Ospreys team-mates at the Principality Stadium.

"Good to finally win a cap, but Test level rugby is a different beast," he said.

"Wales play a bit differently to the Ospreys, so the (Ospreys) boys will change their game to fit the structure and game plans.

"Wales at home is going to be hard.

"We're just looking to build on what the team and coaches have done for the last two years when there's been quite a bit of improvement."

Tonga will face England, France, Argentina and United States in Pool C at Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Tonga: Vunga Lilo; Viliami Lolohea, Alaska Taufa, Siale Piutau (capt), Daniel Kilioni; Kurt Morath, Sonatane Takulua: Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Paula Ngauamo, Ma'afu Fia, Leva Fifita, Sitiveni Mafi, Dan Faleafa, Fotu Lokotui, Sione Vailanu.

Replacements: Sefo Sakalia, Latu Talakai, Paea Fa'anunu, Onehunga Havili, Mike Faleafa, Leon Fukofuka, Kali Hala, Atieli Pakalani.

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC