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Red and white banners aren't the only things flagging following Tonga’s 25-20 loss to Canada. The team's spirits have also taken a beating.
The normally boisterous squad were noticeably downbeat as they prepared to leave Whangarei for Paihia on Thursday, still smarting from Wednesday night's defeat.
“To be honest everyone is still down,” said prop Kisi Pulu. “We’ve been in the pool for recovery, the boys are trying to find smiles, get their faces smiling again. It’s very hard, it was only yesterday, just a short time ago.”
But it won’t be long until the Pacific Island team bounce back, with the players keen to put their recent setback behind them and look to their match with Japan.
“We’ll just train hard and get the spirits back up again. With all professional players, there are always these down times, so now tomorrow we will start to step up ahead of Japan,” he said.
Coach Isitolo Maka attributed some of Wednesday night’s loss to his team not playing cohesively. “I’m just disappointed in the result and that our players were trying to do too much individually, and not working as a team," he said. "It cost us the game.”
He stood by the decision to revamp the team for the Canada match. Despite the squad’s solid second-half performance against the All Blacks, the line-up was overhauled with a record 11 changes, the most ever made at a Rugby World Cup by a Tonga team.
“The only reason we had to make the changes was because of the four-day turnaround between New Zealand and Canada, but now we’ve got a week to prepare, so it’s going to be different facing Japan. Now we’ll have all the players fit and available,” Maka said.
He is looking to rectify lost scoring chances.
“We had more opportunities than Canada had, but the only opportunities they had, they scored. For us, we had more chances to score tries, but we just didn’t do it,” he said.
Pulu said he always knew that Canada would be a hard team to beat. With New Zealand and France likely to take the top two places in Pool A, third place - and automatic qualification for RWC 2015 - will be hotly contested by Canada, Japan and Tonga.
“I know a lot of those players play in Europe or elsewhere,” said Pulu of Canada. “If you watch all the games of the smaller countries in the World Cup, they’re not easy games. Everyone is professional. It might have been easier five, seven years ago, but not anymore.”
The team will have some time to recover, including visiting the Russell Oyster Festival this weekend and taking part in an umu, a Tongan meal tradition, in between training.
Pulu is also motivated to perform well to thank the legions of vocal Tonga fans. “We want to win the game for the fans and all the people who travel up and come to watch the game next week,” he said.
Tonga play Japan at Northland Events Centre, Whangerei, on 21 September.