Tonga triumph amid ructions over French teamBy: NICK MULVENNEY
AUCKLAND – Tonga beat Japan 31-18 in a frenetic World Cup clash yesterday in a fitting end to a day that started with rugby heavyweights France being accused of cynically devaluing the tournament.
The front-page splash on New Zealand’s best-selling Herald newspaper screamed that the French had turned Saturday’s highly-anticipated clash with the All Blacks into a “farce” by naming a ‘B Team’ for the Eden Park match.
The allegation had added piquancy because of conspiracy theories swirling around since Ireland’s shock humbling of Australia last weekend exploded the presumptions of who would play who in the quarter-finals.
The thrust of the conspiracy theory is that France had named a weakened side because finishing second in Pool A would keep them away from the side of the draw likely to contain all three Tri-Nations teams.
France lock forward Pascal Pape laughed off the accusation as a desperate bid to sell newspapers but then warned that it might backfire on the hosts.
“It is a lack of respect for the players chosen for Saturday,” he said. “That motivates us more than it demotivates us. It is extra motivation.”
Winger Vincent Clerc was also amused and said it was perhaps the result of France having knocked the All Blacks out of the 1999 and 2007 World Cups.
“They need to reassure themselves if they are to beat us in a World Cup after those two defeats,” he said. “I’m not upset, it makes me smile actually.”
There was support too from All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen, who said he thought the French team selected was ‘really good’ before contemptuously dismissing any suggestions that New Zealand would ever be guilty of such manoeuvring.
“We’d get hung from the highest tree in New Zealand if we go out and try not to win a test match, it’s just not in our psyche,” he said.
Tonga will be joining all of New Zealand in hoping for a comprehensive victory for the All Blacks on Saturday after their win in the only match of the day kept alive their slim hopes of a place in the quarter-finals for the first time.
The Pacific islanders made the most of their physical superiority in the scrum and at the breakdown at Whangarei but it was 16 points from the boot of Tonga flyhalf Kurt Morath that separated the two sides, who both scored three tries.
“We have one more game left and we have nothing to lose, especially to play against a team like France,” said Tonga coach Isitolo Maka, whose team must now win their final game with a bonus point and hope the All Blacks hammer the French.
“The win tonight will give us big confidence to take them on next week.”