Tonga Wrap Up
Tonga had a whirlwind of a campaign at the 2023 Rugby World cup. Competing in the toughest pool in the tournament Tonga had an uphill climb from the start having the world number 1 Ireland who were on a 15 game win streak heading into the tournament as their first game. They also had to face the defending and eventual rugby world cup champions South Africa, as well as a contending Scotland side and an extremely gritty Romania side. With by far the toughest pool at the World Cup Tonga did not roll over, they proved to be a roadblock for each side and put up a good contest against each side. They had a great finish to the tournament earning a great win over Romania 45-24.
MVP: Ben Tamiefuna was a man possessed throughout the entirety of the tournament. As one of the more experienced players in this Tonga side there was a lot of pressure and hype on the shoulders of Tameifuna going into the tournament and he lived up to it and even surpassed it with his performance.
Player to watch: Kyren Tamuoefolau is a young star on the rise, with his speed and agility he lights it up whenever he’s on the pitch. His Rugby World cup debut was exemplary of that where he ran in a try 25 meters out within his first 4 minutes of being on the pitch. “With his speed he looks like he’s gliding as he runs,” said Salesi Piutau of his fellow full-back afterwards. “I’m excited to see how his career pans out.”
Samoa Wrap Up
Manu Samoa went into the 2023 Rugby World cup with high expectations. Coming off a very successful 2022 campaign and some new experienced signings of the likes of Lima Sopoaga and Christian Lealiifano, Samoa by all rights looked to be a team to keep an eye on. However they struggled to string things together and their discipline cost them in close games. Manu Samoa started off their pool matches with a good win over Chile 43-10 where they showed glimpses of their potential as a legitimate contender. They had 4 yellow cards in their first 3 pool matches which proved to be detrimental as they lost their final games at a combined margin of 4 points. Manu Samoa’s grit and determination to succeed cannot be underappreciated as they came extremely close to a huge comeback win against Japan and pushed England right to the brink in a 18-17 loss that came down to the wire.
MVP: Theo McFarland is a legitimate star in international rugby and his play at the 2023 Rugby World cup solidified that. As an athlete McFarland would stack up against anyone in international rugby with his ability as a ball carrier. His size, deceptive speed and agility makes him a handful to defend and his 7 offloads, 7 tackle breaks and 2 tries in 4 games back that up. His height allows him to play multiple positions and he was instrumental in Samoa’s lineout.
Player to watch: Danny Toala, the Hastings boys product who has been a part of the Moana Pasifika squad for the last two years made his Rugby World cup debut and made an obvious impact from the get go. He’s an all round offensive threat and it showed against England as he was instrumental in 2 tries. First with a strong burst through the defense to put his winger away in the corner and on the second showing his skillset with a precise chip to his winger to score his second. Toala, only 24, should be building towards the 2027 World cup nicely.
Fiji Wrap Up
It’s tough to describe just how much of a history-making year it was for Fiji, who reached the quarterfinals for only a third time. The entire 2023 campaign for Fiji was a special one with a monumental win over England leading into the world cup being one of the highlights of all international rugby in 2023.
Fiji’s passion mixed with their unwavering talent proved them to be a handful in all their matchups. They won two of their 4 pool matches, losing to Wales in a game that could’ve gone anyway due to some controversial calls down the stretch and also dropping one to Portugal which was disappointing but they had already cemented their position in the knockout stages by then. Their win over Australia (their first in 70 years) was what catapulted them into the knockout stages and made Fiji fans around the world immensely proud and excited about what this team could achieve. Fiji faced England in a rematch in the quarterfinal, but it just wasn’t meant to be, controversial calls were yet again at the forefront of post game discussions but nevertheless England were victorious on the day. Fiji became a crowd favorite in France with their exciting playstyle and have forever etched their name in Rugby World cup folklore. It was a very successful tournament for a very proud nation.
MVP: Levani Botia was a standout throughout the tournament and was the defensive anchor for a Fiji side known for their attacking prowess. Coming off the bench against Georgia, Botia was a spark for Fiji setting up a crucial try as they secured the comeback win which ultimately locked in their position for the knockout stages. Botia tackled at an 84% rate throughout the tournament and was strong with ball in hand.
Player to watch: With the unfortunate injury of young gun Caleb Muntz on the eve of the Rugby World cup Fiji were in a whirlwind of trouble losing their game driver. Another young gun showed his valor and was thrusted into the all so important 10 jersey, his name is Vilomoni Botitu. Botitu is an Olympic gold medalist with the Fiji sevens squad and had only played 2 years of 15’s leading into the RWC. In only his 3rd international test match, Botitu in the 10 jersey scored in the quarterfinal against England. Being thrown into the fire early will prove greatly for Botitu as he continues his career.
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Article written by:
Kace O’Neill & Vanessa Leota