The best thing about playing well at the start of a World Cup pool stage is that you spare yourself the hassle of playing at the end of it. Australia, who qualified for the knock-out phase with try-laden victories over their first three opponents, including Wales in the well-known French city of Cardiff, are resting the vast majority of their elite side in preparation for a likely quarter-final meeting with England in Marseilles a week on Saturday. By way of contrast, the reigning champions are being forced to field the Full Monty against Tonga in Paris tomorrow night.
"I suppose they'll have the advantage of being battle-hardened," said the Wallaby coach John Connolly yesterday, in the most ironic of tones. "There is something to be said for people playing every week, just so long as they don't get injured. Once you have some wounded on your hands, it's a different issue entirely. All things considered, I'm pretty happy to rest a few blokes for this last group game against Canada and give some other members of the squad some exposure to the World Cup. It's good to provide game time for players outside the regular 22, just in case they're needed later in the tournament."
Connolly has included only three obvious front-liners for Saturday's meeting with the north Americans in Bordeaux: the wing Lote Tuqiri, who has been shunted to centre for the occasion; the lock Nathan Sharpe; and the open-side flanker George Smith, who will lead the side. A fourth stellar Wallaby, the full-back Chris Latham, will be drafted in if Scott Staniforth fails to recover from shoulder trouble and causes a major back-line reshuffle by withdrawing from the team.
One of those ordered to spend a couple of days on the beach is Berrick Barnes, the young outside-half from Brisbane who was brought here as an uncapped understudy to Stephen Larkham but has played a significant part as a result of his tutor's continuing knee problems. Larkham was still in hospital yesterday, undergoing treatment for an infection apparently related to a recent bout of keyhole surgery. He will not be fit until the semi-final stage, if at all.
"It would be good to have Larkham back, obviously, but Berrick has done well for us," Connolly said. "There are some people who arrive at a World Cup with a complete lack of Test experience and immediately feel at home in the environment. There are others who are widely expected to be fine, say to themselves the minute they get to the tournament: 'Hang on, am I really cut out for this?' Berrick is very definitely in the former category. He has a lot of learning to do, but we're happy with the way he's developing."
Unsurprisingly, Connolly confidently expects England to find a way past Tonga at Parc des Princes. "If I was a betting man" – another of those ironic smiles – "I'd reckon on meeting the champions in the last eight," said the noted gambler from Queensland. "I'd certainly be surprised if it turned out differently. But I'll be interested to see how hard Tonga make them work, and for how long."
As expected, the Tongans have recalled the New Zealand-based flanker Hale T-Pole for the game. The Southland forward was suspended for a week after being sent off for striking the Samoan lock Leo Lafaiali'i with his forearm during the Pacific Islands derby match here 11 days ago. Lisiate Fa'aoso will play in the second row in the other change to the side that pushed South Africa to within five points last weekend.
Sadly, the remarkable international career of Brian Lima, the only player to appear in five World Cups, is a thing of the past. The Samoan centre, nicknamed "The Chiropractor" because of the effect his tackling tends to have on opponents, was banned for three weeks for an illegal hit on the England outside-half Jonny Wilkinson in Nantes last weekend. Yesterday, his appeal was dismissed. As Lima has long maintained that he would retire at the end of this tournament, his day appears to be done.
Tonga: V Lilo (Fanga'o Pilolevu); T Tu'ifua (Counties Manakau), S Hufanga (Brive), E Taione (Sanyo Wild Knights), J Vaka (World Fighting Bull); P Hola (Kobe Steel), S Tu'ipulotu (unattached); S Tonga'uiha (Northampton), A Lutui (Worcester), K Pulu (Perpignan), V Vaki (Perpignan), L Fa'aoso (Marist), H T-Pole (Southland), N Latu (Bay of Plenty, capt), F Maka (Toulouse). Replacements: E Taukafa (Lyon), T Filise (Cardiff Blues), M Molitika (Cardiff Blues), I Afeaki (Grenoble), S Havea (Marist), H Tonga'uiha (Vaini Club), A Havili (Worcester).
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).Reuse content