30 Nov 2016

Sport: Unbeaten tour a big boost for 'Ikale Tahi

1:09 pm on 30 November 2016

An unbeaten Northern Tour has emboldened the Tonga rugby team as they look ahead to a crucial 2017 season.

The 'Ikale Tahi recorded just their fifth victory over a top tier nation as they upset Italy 19-17 in Padua.

The result built on earlier victories against Spain and the United States and marked the first time Tonga had gone undefeated on an end of year tour.

The Tonga rugby team celebrates their win over Italy

The Tonga rugby team celebrates their win over Italy Photo: Photosport

Head coach Toutai Kefu said the final performance had been building all tour.

"We had our best training week that week leading into the Italian test and we weren't too happy as a group with the way that we played in the games against Spain and USA," he said.

"Things were heading the right direction and I stressed to the boys that there's a slice of history - a Tongan team has never been undefeated in a November test window so if we won that game we would be the first.

"Fortunately we played well, our set piece was great, things went our way and we won."

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu and assistant coach Matt O'Connor.

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu and assistant coach Matt O'Connor. Photo: Tonga Rugby Union

Toutai Kefu said heading into next year the main focus now is the Pacific Nations Cup test matches against Fiji and Samoa, which double as 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifiers.

He said with the test window moving to July it should also ensure they have a full-strength squad of players to pick from.

"It gives us that belief and that confidence moving forward and I stressed that to the group afterwards," he said.

"I said this is nothing, this is the tip of the iceberg - we've only just begun to discover ourselves and what we can do.

"We've still got some very good players to come into this squad and our issue is time together. When we are together we can't waste that and that's going to just keep building, we're going to get better and better every year.

We had a really good group and the boys really had that belief and you can see it in the way they played."

Tonga are also scheduled to host Wales in Nuku'alofa next year but Kefu said issues surrounding the readiness of Teufaiva National Stadium have yet to be resolved.