Tonga without big guns for World Cup playoff amid injuries

Tonga will be without star internationals Israel Folau, Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau for their World Cup playoff against Hong Kong on the Sunshine Coast in Australia on Saturday.

Outside back Folau, capped 73 times for Australia before his Wallabies contract was terminated in 2019, suffered a serious hamstring injury early in his Tonga debut in the 36-0 loss to hosts Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup.

Coach Toutai Kefu told Reuters the dual code international could be sidelined for up to another 12 weeks.

Former New Zealand centre Fekitoa had returned to Irish club Munster after suffering a calf injury while fellow All Black Piutau had only committed to two matches during the Pacific Nations Cup, Kefu added.

In a further blow, former Australia No.8 Lopeti Timani had also been scratched from the Hong Kong game after failing a fitness test at training on Thursday morning in the Sunshine Coast.

His place on the bench will be taken by Sione Tuipulotu, Kefu said.

Tonga have only missed qualifying for one World Cup in 1991 and should have too much quality for Hong Kong, despite heading into the playoff in dire form after three straight defeats at the Pacific Nations Cup.

The winner secures a place in Pool D at next year's World Cup in France with reigning champions South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and Romania.


Photo AFP  Caption: Ikale Tahi coach Toutai Kefu