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#RLWC2017 MATCH PREVIEW | Toa Samoa vs Mate Ma’a Tonga

Samoa and Tonga ignite an exciting Island match-up, as they battle it out on Saturday at 3:00 pm AEDT, at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton. The game sees Tonga come off a thumping victory over Scotland 50-4 in Cairns, while Samoa need to bounce back after their loss to New Zealand 38-8 in Auckland.

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Samoa’s game against the Kiwis did not deliver on the anticipation, simply as Samoa where heavily underwhelming Their ball control was rubbish and they gifted much of the possession to the Kiwis, with the majority of the time the Kiwis were able to punish them. Tries at the start and the very end of the game was all Toa Samoa could muster, and a terrific second half from the Kiwis saw the game end in their favour 38-8. Tonga on the other hand had arguably the best first half in World Cup history, putting 38 points on Scotland in the first 40 minutes. Their second half intensity dropped, allowing the Bravehearts to get back into the game. Nevertheless two late tries put the icing on the cake, as the Mate Ma’a ran out 50-4 winners.

Although Tonga look the better side coming into the match, Samoa have taken out the four of the last five meetings between the two sides since 2008. In 2016 both sides met in the Polynesian Cup, a game won by Samoa 18-6. Tonga’s last victory over their Island foes came in 2013, where they heavily defeated Samoa 36-4 in an International friendly. Considering how well the sides know each other, no games have come at a World Cup.

Both sides have strong squads entering, with no big injuries hindering their preparation. Manu Vatuvei will make way for David Fusitu’a on the left-wing. Samoa has a lot of changes to their squad, highlighted by Ricky Leutele starting on the wing for Peter Mata’utia. Suaia Matagi is dropped in favour of Herman Essese, and Matthew Wright comes on to the reserves list.

Tensions between fans of the two Island nations have risen tremendously after a fight broke out in South Auckland. Officials have asked the two sets of fans to remain calm leading up to and during the encounter on Saturday night.

KEY BATTLE

Michael Jennings had a great game against Scotland last week, with a double and gaining a team high 204 running metres. His age does not seem to be an issue in 2017, and his talents will go head to head with Joey Leilua from Toa Samoa. Jennings’s work on the attack is already well-known, however going up against the bigger frame of Leilua will be a much tougher task. Managing to tackle Leilua, and keeping him away from the try line will be a huge task to take on.

Leilua had a career year for the Canberra Raiders in 2016, but since has struggled to recapture his game breaking form. His skill set differs from Jennings, as he is more of a powerful running player with big hands rather than one with great pace and footwork. Nevertheless his ability to neutralise Jennings defensively on the right edge will be important, and his combo with the experienced Ricky Leutele will be important on the offensive side.

PREDICTION

Samoa will no doubt lift their game for this one considering how disappointing they were last week. Ball control will be addressed, so the big tasks to tackle will remain their defence and discipline. Tonga can confirm a finals spot with a win, and considering New Zealand will be on the cards for next week, this game will be as important as ever. If Samoa can keep control of the ball and feed their backline far better than last week, then they will have a great chance to defeat the Mate Ma’a. That being said, Tonga’s performance will have to decline for Samoa to get much of a sniff. Expect the forward packs of both sides to have a good crack at each other. Tonga by 10.

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SQUADS

Samoa squad: 1 Young Tonumaipea 2 Ricky Leutele 3 Timoteo Lafai 4 Joseph Leilua 5 Ken Maumalo 6 Joseph Paulo 7 Ben Roberts 8 Junior Paulo 9 Jazz Tevaga 10 Herman Ese’ese 11 Joshua Papalii 12 Frank Pritchard (C) 13 Leeson Ah Mau 14 Fa’amanu Brown 15 Zane Musgrove 16 Sam Lisone 17 Bunty Afoa 18 Sam Tagataese 19 Frank Winterstein 20 Jarome Luai 21 Matthew Wright

Tonga squad: 1. Will Hopoate 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Michael Jennings 4. Solomone Kata 5. David Fusitu’a 6. Tuimoala Lolohea 7. Ata Hingano 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Siliva Havilli 10. Sio Siua Taukieaho 11. Manu Ma’u 12. Sika Manu (C) 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Sione Katoa 15. Sam Moa 16. Peni Terepo 17. Ben Murdoch-Masila 18. Ukuma Ta’ai 19. Manu Vatuvei 20. Konrad Hurrell 21. Samisoni Lang

Aspiring sports journalist, currently studying at AUT in Auckland, New Zealand.

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