28 Jun 2016

Sport: 'Ikale Tahi players in "terrible shape" during Pacific Nations Cup

11:58 am on 28 June 2016

More than 20 players could be dumped from the Tongan rugby squad for November's European tour.

The 'Ikale Tahi finished winless in the June internationals, losing narrowly against Fiji and Georgia before a 30-10 hammering at the hands of Samoa.

New coach Toutai Kefu said too many players arrived in camp overweight and not in a good state to play test rugby.

"The players that did turn up, and I thank them for that, they were in terrible shape and most of those were professional players, so I think we've just got to change their mindset in terms of being a professional," he said.

"Gone are the days where you have an off-season and you can put on maybe four or five kilos but these days you've got to have a mindset where you're always trying to get better and improve and our players, I think, are just content just to be happy where they are. That's one of the things I was disappointed about was just their general level of fitness."

New faces are expected in the Tongan team at the end of the year.

New faces are expected in the Tongan team at the end of the year. Photo: Renee McKay/SRU

Toutai Kefu said despite concerns over the players' conditioning, they were competitive against Fiji and Georgia and he was confident going into the final test in Apia.

"Against Fiji and Georgia we played quite well and above my expectations so I though we could have got Samoa because they were under a little bit of pressure to perform - they hadn't quite played so well and there was a bit of pressure from them locally. I thought we might be able to do something there and get a positive result but I think when you turn the ball over 12 times in the first half makes it very hard."

The former Wallabies number eight admits Tonga will need to win both matches in the 2017 Pacific Nations Cup to have any hope of qualifying directly for the next Rugby World Cup.

Tonga captain Nili Latu prepares to tackle Samoa's Jeff Lepa.

Tonga captain Nili Latu prepares to tackle Samoa's Jeff Lepa. Photo: Renee McKay/SRU

A number of players were unavailable for the mid-year tests and Kefu said it's unlikely many will be retained for the end of year tour to Europe.

"If all players were available to me I'd say probably only four or five (will be selected for the November tour)...in giving a lot of players a chance in this tour we probably maybe picked two or three that might have something for the future, so we might keep investing in them," he said,

"But when you've got players to the ilk of Cooper Vuna and Atieli Pakalani and there's players also there to try and cap as well, for example Lopeti Timani, Colby Fainga'a and maybe Frank Halai - they're class players so they've got to be involved somewhere."

Tonga's are scheduled to play Uruguay, Italy and another yet to be confirmed side on their Northern Tour in November.

Toutai Kefu, playing for Australia in 2002.

Toutai Kefu, playing for Australia in 2002. Photo: Photosport