Tonga rattle French until sending-off

RUGBY UNION WORLD CUP
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The Independent Online
France 38

Tonga 10

The Tongan flanker Feleti Mahoni will be flying home this weekend after being sent off by the English referee, Steve Lander, for stamping.

The 68th-minute offence clouded what was otherwise a sterling effort from the South Seas champions on their return to the World Cup stage after missing the 1991 tournament.

Mahoni was caught stamping on the head of the French back row man, Phillippe Benetton, at a ruck in the French 22. His punishment will be a minimum ban of 60 days and a flight home at the earliest opportunity.

The Tongan skipper, Mana Otai, had said that his side were not prepared to be anyone's doormat at their second World Cup and up until the sending off they had rattled the much-fancied French.

They were totally committed to the task from the moment they launched their spectacular haka challenge to the French prior to kick-off, and midway through the second half the Loftus Versfeld crowd were chanting "Tonga, Tonga, Tonga".

Their injury-time try, fittingly set up by the game's outstanding forward, Ipolito Fenukitau, brought the biggest reception of the night. It also brought a rare successful kick by Sateki Tu'ipulotu, who disappointingly missed with six out of his seven penalty attempts.

The Tongans direct approach at forward caused the French, quoted at 7- 1 to win the World Cup, to take a back seat for much of the game. After 30 minutes the statisticians were crediting the Tongans with 70 per cent possession.

The half-back pairing of Aubin Hueber and Yann Delaigue did not function well in the first half and the pack, Olivier Merle apart, were surprisingly muted. At the start of the second half they were there for the taking.

They changed ends a mere six points ahead, thanks to a Dalaigue drop goal and a Thierry Lacroix penalty, and that lead was extended by a second penalty from Lacroix four minutes into the second half.

The Tongans refused to be shaken, however, and when Tu'ipulotu finally hit the mark from in front of the posts they threw everything at the French.

Minutes before the dismissal of Mahoni, Lacroix kicked another penalty and crossed for his side's first try as he moved towards his match haul of 25 points. Only then did the French begin to function anything like as well as they must have hoped.

There were 21 points in the closing 10 minutes, but not enough to gloss over a very mediocre performance.

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colmiers); E N Tamak (Toulouse), T Lacroix (Dax), P Sella (Agen), P Saint Andre (Montferrand, capt); Y Delaigue (Toulon), A Hueber (Toulon); L Armary (Lourdes), J-M Gonzales (Bayone), P Gallart (Beziers), O Merle (Montferrand), O Brouzet (Grenoble), A Benazzi (Agen), M Cecillon (Bourgoin), P Benetton (Agen). Replacements: L Cabannes (Racing) for Cecillon, 59.

TONGA: S Tu'ipulotu (Manly, Aus); A Taufu (Wellington Harlequins, NZ), U Va'enuku (Kolofo'ou), P Latu (Vahelotu), T Va'enuku (Kolofo'ou); E Vunipola (Toa-ko-Ma'afu), M Vunipola (Toa-ko-Ma'afu); S Fe'ao (Queensland, Aus), F Masila (Kolompotu'a), T Fukofuka (Grammar Old Boys, NZ), W Lose (North Harbour, NZ), F Mafi (Queanbeyan, Aus), F Mahoni (Fasi Ma'ufanga), I Fenukitau (Queanbeyan, Aus), M Otai (Kia-Toa, NZ; capt). Replacements: F Vunipola (Toa-ko-Ma'afu) for Masila, 10; I Afeaki (Wellington, NZ), for Mafi, 76.

Referee: S Lander (England).

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