Wales rely on boot of Jones to tame Tonga

Click to follow

Quietly, but assuredly, this Welsh camp is warming for a campaign that not a few weeks ago was offering all the allure of a trip to the Valleys in February. A win against Tonga here tomorrow will make it two down, the Big One to go, in their unashamed mission of simply making the quarter-finals. And confidence is building by the day as next Saturday's "decider'' against Italy comes sharply into focus.

Maybe it is this new-found belief and unity in their purpose that convinced Steve Hansen to make radical changes to the side which so comfortably side-footed that Canadian banana skin out of their path last Sunday. The Pacific Islanders are not expected to provide any great risk of a slip-up and for once with Wales there is a feeling of expectancy rather than paranoia.

Stephen Jones is typical of this willingness to get up there and play. "I'm chomping at the bit,'' he said this week at the Canberra Raiders training ground, which Wales have commandeered in the Australian capital. "Sure I am feeling the nerves, we all are. It's been like a knock-out for us in this World Cup. We have to win our first three games if we want to progress. It's a do-or-die situation.''

But the attitude is very much "do'', even though the "burgeoning'' union talent of Iestyn Harris is being kept on the bench as Hansen looks to blood his squad. And against the Tongans, this term might turn out to be more literal than is comfortable. There will be tackles coming in from every conceivable angle, not all of them legal and none of them welcome.

Control will be tantamount and without Harris - whose performance with hand, foot and brain against Canada did more than anything to reawaken the Welsh dream - the strategic onus will fall on the more than adequate shoulders of Jones.

Against the Italians, Tonga showed themselves to be alarmingly susceptible to a canny kicking game and it will be no surprise to see the Llanelli outside-half trying to turn them, just as Rima Wakarua did, with chips over the top into the yards of space that lie behind their suicidally flat defence.

Up front, the "C'' word will be all-important, too, as Tonga's transparent weakness in the set-pieces must be exploited to the full. Failure to secure the lion's share of possession will allow the Tongan runners to roam free and then, in this jungle of opportunity, it could well get hairy.

With their backs up, Jim Love's side can conquer all, and Wales should take the Italian lead and look to break their spirit with aggressive defence.

On the front foot, or indeed the back foot, Wales must be prepared to stand up to whatever horrors Tonga are prepared to throw at them. "We are facing a side that needs some points to stay alive in the tournament and they are going to be really desperate,'' he said. "So we need to meet this desperation with our own urgency and enthusiasm.''

Both commodities should be in plentiful supply, especially with starting places against Italy there for the taking. Like Jones, Rhys Williams will be determined to win back his role as the No 1 full-back, and Mark Taylor be going out there to remind everyone of the subtle qualities that graced the Welsh back line a few years ago.

A revamped front row will be chasing scrummaging rights, and in the back row Alix Popham will be trying to prove to his many detractors that he is, in fact, a Test-class No 8.

The young Leeds Tyke will be assisted by the fact that Tonga are missing their captain and inspiration, Inoke Afeaki, whose "miraculous'' recovery from being knocked out cold for at least three minutes on Wednesday did not convince the tournament doctors.

Simple, Tonga say, lose one Afeaki and call for another, and so his younger brother, Stanley, steps up to maintain the honour. That, however, should be all that Tonga are playing for in yet another game that means far too much for Wales to lose.