Scotland v Tonga, Autumn Nations Series 2021: Match Preview

KO 2.30pm
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.

Teams

Scotland
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*

Tonga
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!

Miscellany

  • 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).

Previous results

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)

Officials

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)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – lost to France (A)
    Penalties: 22 (For 10 – 12 Against)
    Cards: 1YC for France

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When he's not watching Glasgow, Scotland (and even Edinburgh) Kevin can usually be found with his head in a spreadsheet working out the most obscure Scottish rugby related stat he can put out on Twitter.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW

15 comments on “Scotland v Tonga, Autumn Nations Series 2021: Match Preview

    • Ken Mavor on

      Presume he’s got agreement to miss a couple of the Eastenders episodes as the match is outside the international window.

  1. Big Al on

    Still having nightmares from taking my young boys to watch the 15-21 loss at Pittodrie. The best 2 things about that were watching the Tongans experience snow for the first time and the end of the Andy Robinson era. We were terrible.

    We should win this comfortably with a young attack minded side but Tonga are only one place below Italy in the rankings so not to be taken for granted. Looking forward to seeing what some of our youngsters can do at this level.

  2. Billy on

    At rugby you can’t take anything for granted . It all depends on what mood your in . Glad to be back at Murrayfield to watch the boys .

  3. SlowWalk90 on

    I think that’s one of the things that’s great(?) about being a Scotland fan. Every game’s of interest. Even as we get to a level of consistency that we never had before, we can never take any game for granted.

    If we were New Zealanders, of course we’d know we’d beat Italy, Tonga or the USA and that it wouldn’t be much of a contest. However, as it is, we’ve all suffered from enough disasters to know that it could happen again at any time.

    Conversely (at least for now), there’s no team where we can’t see a potential route to victory if we get the bounce of a ball.

    I’m quietly expecting a record victory in this one. However, I read that PaddyPower have Scotland at 1/200 to win. Anyone placing a bet on that needs an automatic HIA.

  4. 1.8T on

    Think Tonga are a shadow of what they once were, I recall them being the stars of the 2007 World Cup, did they not nearly beat the Boks or something?

    I also remember being at Pittodrie that fateful day, we were rank rotten, never even looked like scoring and gave I way two very soft tries if I remember correctly. Like Big Al I also recall the Tongans kicking around the snow at the side of the pitch in amazement, very funny, the result wasn’t though!

    • RuggersB on

      What a player McLean looks!! Has alot of everything…makes Rees Zammit look average. Works really hard too. I know its Tonga..but crikey.. if he isnt at least on the bench v Australia..Id be a scratching my head. Sione too …looks a really good player…Id have him at 12 Harris at 13 v Australia.

    • RuggersB on

      Berry makes some good decisions but in every game seems to lets his ego get the better of him.

      Will be interesting selection…Steyn, McLean, Sione, Hodgson, Shoeman, Kebble all put their hands up…imo
      Graham is a great player going forward ..but both Steyn and McLean look better in defense..Steyn in particular. Dobbie looks a proper 9 .

      Still dont feel we have an 8 of the right quality tho.

  5. Neil on

    A real shame Tonga do not get more opportunities and support to have there full squad available and a reasonable time to prepare.

    Team for Aus:

    Stuart Hogg – Kyle Steyn – Chris Harris – Matt Scott – Duhan Van Der Merwe – Finn Russell – Ali Price – Magnus Bradbury – Hamish Watson – Jamie Ritchie – Grant Gilchrist – Sam Skinner – Zander Fagerson – George Turner – Rory Sutherland

    Darcy Graham – Adam Hastings – George Horne – Matt Fagerson – Nick Haining – Oli Kebble – Stuart Mcinally – Pierre Schoeman

  6. Fraser on

    Good game for the youngsters but let’s be honest, Tonga were pretty poor especially in defence so don’t think we can use this game to dislodge any established players.

    Kinghorn was ok, but he’s really not an international 10 and is an emergency backup at best. He doesn’t have the vision of genuine 10’s and is a bit 1 dimensional. For example when Tonga started blitzing more in the second half, a few grabbers or chips would have kept them honest. Thomson did a lot more tactically once he came on.

    Price continuing to look a much more rounded player and Ritchie captained well.

    There will be a few selection headaches for next week – particularly on the wings.
    Australia will be an entirely different challenge.

  7. Big Al on

    Well played guys, we’ve come a long way since Pittodrie!

    Been a big fan of Steyn since he joined Glasgow and really good to see him put his hand up after a terrible run of injuries. Actually thought all the Glasgow backs played well. Not so convinced by Kinghorn at 10 or Graham at 15 but they were fine for a trial with this level of opposition.

  8. Neil on

    I thought Kinghorn did well, considering he has played so little in the position, plenty of room to grow into the roll.

    No 10 is the full package right away.

    I thought his pass to McLean and Kick to Steyn showed excellent vision.

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