Tonga leave with heads held high

Tonga finished their Rugby World Cup 2023 campaign on a high with an entertaining 45-24 Pool B victory over Romania in front of 45,000 fans at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille.

The Ikale Tahi swept into a 21-3 lead after winger Solomone Kata collected an offload from Salesi Piutau for the opening try, ex-All Blacks centre George Moala went over and winger Afusipa Taumoepeau added a third after Alin Conache’s penalty for Romania.

But the Oaks came back with two tries before the interval from flanker Cristi Boboc and scrum-half Florin Surugiu, the second with Tonga a man down after second-row Halaleva Fifita’s yellow card.

Sione Vailanu’s score extended Tonga’s lead to 11 points on the resumption but Romania again rallied, full-back Marius Simionescu’s going over before further tries from Pita Ahki, Kata and Kyren Taumoefolau sealed Tonga’s record win at a Rugby World Cup.

George Moala, the Mastercard Player of the Match, said: “The boys dug in deep. I am just really happy, it was a great effort from the boys. A really physical game and we’re really happy to finish with a win.”

Tonga captain Sonatane Takulua admitted the players wanted to get the win for their head coach Toutai Kefu, who is leaving the role. Takula said: “It will mean a lot to our players and especially our coach, finishing up after this World Cup, it is his last game.”

Kefu added: “I knew if we practised the things we did, we were building up to our best performance – and I thought tonight was probably our best performance.”

Romania head coach Eugen Apjok said: “We stayed in the game but we made too many mistakes, especially in the second half. In the first half, it was three individual mistakes that cost us and after we came back we believed we could win but, again, it was a couple of mistakes and we lost control. Well done to Tonga.”

After four defeats, Romania captain Ovidiu Cojocaru said: “Our performance showed a little bit of improvement but we need more work for the future.”