Rugby Union: Wales look forward to sterner test

Wales 46 Tonga 12
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First the good news. This was a record win for Wales over Tonga, their fifth triumph in a row this year and there were six tries to add to the 11 scored in the 70-21 win over Romania in August.

Now for the bad news. In 12 days' time this team has to meet the All Blacks and they will need a massive improvement to get anywhere near the current world leaders.

If the statistics provide some succour for the Welsh coach, Kevin Bowring, the fact remains that Wales are a long way short of the standard of New Zealand and the big day at Wembley on 29 November could still turn into an embarrassment.

At least Gwynn Jones' side will have nothing to lose. At a rain-soaked St Helen's, hosting its first international since 1954, they were on a hiding to nothing as Tonga clattered into any and every Welshman who got close to the ball. They also played three, four and sometimes five metres over the offside line.

That tactic, coupled with the torrential rain, meant Wales were hardly ever able to get the width into their game that Bowring has been preaching. The result was a frustrating first half and a limited spectacle for the near-8,000 fans.

Despite the difficult conditions, Wales attempted to keep the ball in hand as often as possible and the Tongan tackling tested their ball retention to the full.

The Welsh camp is not shying away from the prospect of playing against the All Blacks. Indeed, Bowring is looking forward in putting his team to the ultimate test and discovering what work must be done before the 1999 World Cup.

"We are determined to have a go at the All Blacks. Nothing is impossible, although we remain realistic," he said

"We need some self-belief and we must work harder in the last quarter of the game. We want to give something to our fans to shout about at Wembley and we know we must concentrate for the full 80 minutes."

Wales managed only two tries in the first half with the wind at their backs, although much of that was due to the persistent offside by the Tongans. They were penalised 17 times in the opening half and conceded a further rush of seven penalties in the first 10 minutes of the second period.

Gareth Thomas used his power to notch the first Welsh try and then paved the way for the second in first-half injury-time for Leigh Davies.

Neil Jenkins' four penalties ensured the scoreboard kept ticking over for the home side, but it took a try by the Tongan centre Fepi'kou Tatafu 10 minutes into the second half to sting Wales into more purposeful action. The result was four more tries.

Wales: Tries G Thomas 2, Davies, Wyatt, Anthony, Walker; Conversions Jenkins 2; Penalties Jenkins 4. Tonga: Tries Tatfu, Tai; Conversion Tonga.

WALES: G Wyatt (Pontypridd); G Thomas (Bridgend), L Davies (Cardiff), S Gibbs (Swansea), N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), P John (Pontypridd); C Loader (Swansea), B Williams (Richmond), S John (Cardiff), S Moore (Moseley), M Voyle (Llanelli), R Appleyard (Swansea), G Jones (Cardiff, capt), N Thomas (Bath). Replacements: R Howley (Cardiff) for P John, 55; C Anthony (Swansea) for S John, 55; J Humphreys (Cardiff) for Williams, 55; D James (Pontypridd) for Thomas, 70; S Williams (Cardiff) for Moore, 73.

TONGA: Tonga; Tiueti, Tatafu, Tanginoa, Faka'osi'folau; Taumalolo, Tu'ipilotu; Briggs (capt), Ma'asi, Ta'u, Latu, Faletau, Tu'ipiluto, Pohiva, Matakaiongo. Replacements: Lavaka for Briggs, h-t; Molitika for Matakaiongo, 57; Hafoka for Pohiva, 64; Tai for Tatafu, 76.

Referee: S Borsani (Arg).