Australia return to Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday to face Tonga and they will be looking to rebound after a poor showing against the Kiwis last week.
Things started well in the early stages as Valentine Holmes crossed in the 2nd minute and added to his International try scoring haul. But the game changed from that point as the New Zealand continually attacked the Australian line throughout the first half. The Aussies didn’t help their cause as they continually dropped the ball coming out of their own half. They also lost Luke Keary early on to concussion and that really impacted their attacking plans. But credit goes to New Zealand for out playing Australia in the end. The possession was 58% to 42% in the home side’s favour and Australia completed just 75% of their sets. 11 total errors didn’t help either in a sloppy performance.
In team news, despite the knock in the New Zealand game, Luke Keary is selected in the run on side at 6. Which means Australia will be unchanged for this clash. He’ll partner with Cherry-Evans again and they’ll hope to make a few more plays in this one. Cherry-Evans was solid last week with a try-assist. But he’ll need more help from the forward pack this week. Mitchell was great on debut with 3 line-breaks and really threatened to break the game open.
Tonga will enjoy a packed out crowd at Mt Smart Stadium and that will give them extra motivation to complete an upset. They haven’t played a game since defeating Samoa 38-22 in June this year. In the victory, they scored 7 tries in the space of 34 minutes. But were held try-less in the last 38 minutes. There’s no doubt they will need to attack against Australia if they’re any chance of winning this game. Which I do see their outside backs having success. On one side of the wing, they have David Fusitu'a from the Warriors and he was a try-scoring machine in the NRL this year. In 23 games, he ended up with a huge total of 23 tries and that includes 7 games with 2 or more tries. On the other side, Daniel Tupou’s 196cm frame will be a target in the kicking game near the line and could cause issues for the smaller Valentine Holmes.
The forward battle in this matchup is really one to watch. The Tongan’s have the likes of Fifita, Taumalolo and Manu. Siosiua Taukeiaho was huge in the NRL Grand Final this year as well with 125 run metres. So this forward pack should be able to get some momentum in the middle of the park. Meanwhile, Australia will matchup with the likes of Klemmer and McLean in the front row. The Australian forward pack wasn’t great last week so they’ll look for an improved performance, especially early on. Around the ruck, Damien Cook is going to be an important player to watch in this matchup. He loves running out of dummy half and this matchup against a big Tongan pack should suit his game. His defensive work against the Kiwis was another highlight as he recored 55 tackles.
This will be the first ever clash between Australia and Tonga. So there is obviously no history to read into. But based on each sides last few test matches, this should be a high scoring affair with the overs getting up. Last week, Australia and NZ totalled 50 points. In Australia’s last 4 games against countries other than New Zealand or England, they score an average of 46.5 points! So I can see them scoring 30+ against Tonga this week. Tonga’s last 7 games have all finished over 41.5 points and they have scored an average of 30 points per game. Obviously, Australia’s defence is alot better than who they’ve played before. But as New Zealand showed last week, they can be vulnerable.
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