Saturday 30th October 2021
BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
TV coverage – Amazon Prime
602 days after the last Scotland game at Murrayfield in front of a crowd, fans will be back to watch the dark blues take on Tonga. After a rather insipid Autumn Nations Cup last year here’s hoping the presence of punters can drive the 2021 Autumn Nations Series to rather greater heights.
It has been 7 years since the last meeting between these two sides and 20 years since Tonga last visited BT Murrayfield. Robert Harley, Sonatane Takulua and Kurt Morath (who all started at Rugby Park in 2014) are the only players in the lineups for Saturday who have previously experienced a Scotland v Tonga clash.
Backs: Darcy Graham, Kyle Steyn, Sione Tuipulotu*, Sam Johnson, Rufus McLean*, Blair Kinghorn, Ali Price (cc)
Forwards: Pierre Schoeman*, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Jamie Hodgson*, Robert Harley, Jamie Ritchie (cc), Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Jamie Bhatti, Oli Kebble, Marshall Sykes*, Luke Crosbie*, Nick Haining, Jamie Dobie*, Ross Thompson*
Backs: James Faiva, Atunaisa Manu*, Mailetoa Hingano, Vaea Vaea*, Walter Fifita, Kurt Morath, Sonatane Takulua (c)
Forwards: Loni Uhila*, Maile Ngauamo*, David Lolohea, Halaleva Fifita, Setefano Funaki*, Tanginoa Halaifonua*, Fotu Lokotui, Valentino Mapapalangi
Replacements: Siua Maile, Jethro Felemi, Toma Taufa, Dan Faleafa, Onehunga Havili, Mateaki Kafatolu, Aisea Halo, Navarre Haisila*
* Denotes uncapped player
For more on the Scotland team selection click here.
Tonga Scouting Report
Tier 1 matches
Tonga haven’t had too many opportunities to take on Tier 1 opposition outwith RWCs since they last played Scotland in 2014:
- 2021: New Zealand 102 – 0 Tonga
- 2019: New Zealand 92 – 7 Tonga
- 2018: Wales 74 – 24 Tonga
- 2017: Tonga 6 – 24 Wales
- 2016: Italy 17 – 19 Tonga
That most recent fixture was heavily impacted by restrictions on the players available to travel to play for Tonga. Prior to that, their showing at the most recent World Cup did suggest things were moving in the right direction. After losing 47-9 to New Zealand and 45-16 to Argentina in 2015, during the 2019 RWC, Tonga’s matches against Tier 1 opposition finished:
- Tonga 21 – 23 France
- Tonga 12- 28 Argentina
- Tonga 3 – 35 England
Back to back matches against Scotland and England present big opportunities – but also significant challenges – as the Sea Eagles try to make their case for being included at the top table on a more consistent basis.
Less than ideal preparation
Tonga have travelled north with a 40-man squad. 13 of their 31-man squad from the RWC return (compared to 16 for Scotland). Only 10 of the 30-man selection for the summer are involved again, reflecting just what a patched-together lineup they had to put out to fulfill their game against New Zealand and World Cup qualifiers against Samoa and the Cook Islands.
Tonga capped 23 new players in the summer and have brought another 10 uncapped players on tour with them. That’s partly to do with redeveloping at the start of an RWC cycle but even more so just due to sheer necessity with travel restrictions and financial pressures meaning some players simply can’t join up with the ‘Ikale Tahi.
Having said that, it’s possibly fortunate that Auckland player Sione Tuipulotu, who was in the Tongan squad over the summer, has not travelled to Europe. This could have caused some significant confusion with the Sione Tuipulotu who will make his Test debut for Scotland on Saturday!
Among the current Tonga squad, 22 of the 40 players play in France including 9 in the Top 14. That’s a fairly stark reminder of just how important the French professional setup is in providing opportunities for players from Tonga (and Fiji, Samoa, Georgia, Spain, Belgium etc.) to make a career out of rugby.
Fortunately, Tonga have been able to obtain the release of a dozen of their French-based players – including 3 from the Top 14 – for this out of Test window match, otherwise they might have struggled to put out a side!
- The starting Tongan front row’s combined tally of Test caps is 1. 22-stone tighthead, David Lolohea, started against Georgia in Suva back in 2018.
- Vaea Vaea’s debut at inside centre for Tonga means that there will be 3 players born in the 2000s in action on Saturday (alongside Rufus McLean and Jamie Dobie for Scotland).
- Stand off Kurt Morath will celebrate his 37th birthday 2 days after this match.
- There are 17 over 30s in Tonga’s 40-man squad for the Autumn Nations Series (Scotland – 8). The ‘Ikale Tahi have 7 players under 25 in that group (Scotland – 14).
These teams have met on three previous occasions in Scotland with the home side winning two of those matches but famously losing in Aberdeen in a game that ended the tenure of then head coach, Andy Robinson:
Scotland 37 – 12 Tonga
Rugby Park, 22 November 2014
Scotland: Blair Cowan (1T); Stuart Hogg (1T); Alex Dunbar (1T); Geoff Cross (1T); Tommy Seymour (1T); Greig Laidlaw (3C & 2P)
Tonga: Latiume Fosita (4P)
Scotland 15 – 21 Tonga
Pittodrie Stadium, 24 November 2012
Scotland: Greig Laidlaw (5P)
Tonga: Lua Lokotui (1T); Fetu’u Vainikolo (1T); Fangatapu ‘Apikotoa (1C & 3P)
Scotland 43 – 20 Tonga
Murrayfield, 10 November 2001
Scotland: James McLaren (1T); Glenn Metcalfe (1T); Roland Reid (1T); Gordon Simpson (1T); Gordon Ross (4C & 5P)
Tonga: Viliami Vaki (1T); Josh Taumalolo (1P); Sateki Tuipulotu (4P)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant 1: Damon Murphy (Australia)
Assistant 2: Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: Brett Conan (Australia)
This is a high level appointment with Mr Berry fresh from refereeing the opening game of the South Africa v Lions’ series as well as featuring regularly in the recent Rugby Championship.
It will be just the 3rd time in charge of a Scotland game for the Australian official though and his 2nd at BT Murrayfield. While Rassie Erasmus might try and use his yellow circles to convince people otherwise, Mr Berry is a good ref with a reasonable empathy for the game. It’s impossible to pick up everything but, like the players, while Mr Berry will make mistakes on Saturday he will get a high percentage of what he does correct. In an incredibly complex game to officiate that’s probably about as good as it is possible to get while officials remain human beings!
Scotland’s previous games with Mr Berry in charge:
- 2017 – beat Samoa (H)
Penalties: 18 (For 9 – 9 Against)
- 2019 – lost to France (A)
Penalties: 22 (For 10 – 12 Against)
Cards: 1YC for France