Tonga coach backs his side for upset
Tonga coach Dave Waterston is considering placing a $1,500 bet on his side lifting the World Cup after they were quoted at 250-1 outsiders.
It seems an outrageous wager, particularly since they face trophy favourites New Zealand in their pool B opener on October 3. But the New Zealand-born, South African-based strategist said: "We have built all our plans around beating the All Blacks.
"We know they will be tough and at the moment we are probably 30 points short of them. But 10 points we will make up through fitness, 10 points through tactics and 10 through guts and skills."
Tonga also face England and Italy in pool B.
Waterston, working in tandem with Polutele Tu'ihalamaka, points to Tonga's 20-16 home victory over France in June to justify his confidence.
With the backing of South African sponsors, the squad has been training in the Republic at high altitude and will arrive at the tournament as the best-prepared side ever to represent the islands.
"Traditionally, Polynesian sides have had a weakness in their tight five and we have got to shore that up...we have played cowboy football with no discipline and no plan," says Waterston.
"But this is a team that's improving and we know that if we can catch New Zealand cold in the first game then the tournament opens up for us. And remember, no-one has any tapes on Tonga but we have 105 tapes on New Zealand."
Waterston, who has lived in South Africa for 26 years, was technical analyst to the late Kitch Christie's 1995 World Cup-winning Springboks.
His breakdown of the All Black game was credited as one of the key weapons in the South African armoury and he is unashamedly duplicating that formula.
"I'm not deviating one iota from Kitch's plan," he says. "We'll defend like crazy and rely on team spirit to carry us through."
The team's key playmakers are halfbacks Sililo Marten and Elisi Vunipola, while a mobile and aggressive pack, backed by equally tough-tackling backline, will be charged with smothering the opposition.
Most of Tonga's players perform overseas, with the majority earning a living in Japan, New Zealand or Britain.
That hampered the team's qualification campaign -- they lost 74-0 in their game against Australia -- but Tonga scraped into their third World Cup via the repechage, destroying South Korea 140-41 over two legs.
Importantly, however, Tu'ihaiamaka and Waterston believe they are beginning to staunch the haemorrhage of Tongan talent to such teams as Australia and New Zealand that has characterised recent years.
"When we beat France we had five regulars missing and our top eight guys have been creamed off by other countries in the last few years," says Waterston.
"We haven't got a bottomless pool of talent. We know we are outsiders and we will be humble because our record demands it. But we'll give it a go -- you never know."