Wales v Tonga - Preview
November 16, 2001

Struggling Wales tackle Tonga at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, with centre Allan Bateman admitting: "We are desperate for a win."

Wales have never lost to the South Sea Islanders, beating them five times and averaging 27 points a game since their first meeting at Cardiff Arms Park in 1974.

But those statistics cannot disguise the tension-filled atmosphere surrounding tomorrow's game, which will be played against the backdrop of a two-thirds' empty stadium.

Advance ticket sales have crept over the 20,000-mark, public apathy having much to do with Wales' recent abject form.

A record home defeat against Ireland in the Six Nations Championship was followed last Saturday by Argentina brushing aside a feeble Welsh challenge and easily succeeding 30-16.

Wales left the field to a chorus of boos; captain David Young quit international rugby just 48 hours later, and the pressure is now on coach Graham Henry as at no other time during his three-year reign.

Tonga, in theory, should provide Bateman (pictured) and company with the perfect opportunity to pick themselves up for Sunday week's daunting clash against world champions Australia.

But such has been the extent of Wales' slump that nothing can be taken for granted.

Henry reacted to the crushing Argentina setback by axing three players - wing Rhys Williams, lock Craig Quinnell and flanker Gavin Thomas - while a host of positional switches included moving Welsh rugby's £1 million man Iestyn Harris from flyhalf into midfield alongside 36-year-old Bateman.

Bateman, Ebbw Vale prop Iestyn Thomas, Newport lock Ian Gough and Neath flanker Brett Sinkinson all received call-ups - with Llanelli's Lions No 8 Scott Quinnell proving a predictable choice as the new captain.

The fall-out from another loss would inevitably claim victims, and Bateman knows Wales must deliver at a time when public expectation of the team has reached its lowest point for years.

"We have got to beat Tonga; it's as simple as that," he said. "The players are desperate for a win to try and get some confidence back.

"I went on as a substitute against Argentina, and it all felt so flat. There was very little communication, and there seemed to be no excitement or urgency about things.

"If we could put our finger on what has been going wrong then we would correct it overnight," he added. "I don't know what the reasons are for this lethargy, and a lot of the criticism we have received lately has been deserved.

"Everyone reads the papers, and it affects people differently. It's never easy to take criticism, but we have got to take it on board and try to improve."

One of Bateman's main tasks will be to provide a guiding hand for Harris, the former Leeds and Great Britain rugby league star whose Test debut last Saturday saw his kicking errors contribute directly to both Argentinian tries.

With the consistent Stephen Jones now restored to flyhalf duties, much of the decision-making has been taken away from Harris - and that should benefit Wales' victory bid.

"Iestyn is a very talented footballer. He was under a lot of pressure last weekend, and I felt for him in the Argentina game," said Bateman.

"Centre would probably be his best position at the moment, and there is no doubt that with quick ball he has the ability to destroy teams."

Harris, with less than five hours' rugby union experience to fall back on, is not the key to Welsh hopes this weekend.

Senior players such as Bateman, scrumhalf Rob Howley, flanker Colin Charvis and captain Quinnell have got to take charge against a Tongan side, several of whom play their club rugby in Wales and will be familiar opponents.

The established big-game performers must exude authority, and if that happens then the South Sea Islanders should suffer a comprehensive defeat.

Anything to the contrary, and the knives will well and truly be out for Henry and his players. Even before kick-off, they are not exactly flavour of the month.

Teams for Millennium Stadium:

Wales: K Morgan (Swansea); G Thomas (Bridgend), A Bateman (Neath), I Harris (Cardiff), A Sullivan (Cardiff); S Jones (Llanelli), R Howley (Cardiff); I Thomas (Ebbw Vale), R McBryde (Llanelli), D Morris (Swansea), I Gough (Newport), A Moore (Swansea), C Charvis (Swansea), B Sinkinson (Neath), S Quinnell (Llanelli, capt). Substitutes: B Williams (Neath), S John (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli), G Thomas (Bath), D Peel (Llanelli), J Robinson (Cardiff), R Williams (Cardiff).

Tonga: T Taufahema (Caerphilly); D Tiueti (Neath), S Taumalolo (Bridgend), G Leger (Manukau), E Taione (Newcastle); P Hola (West Harbour), S Martens (Swansea); J Pale (Wellington), V Ma'asi (Fasi/Maufanga), T Taumoepeau (Auckland), F Fakongo (North Harbour), V Vaki (Lavengamalie), N Naufahu (Hawkes Bay), I Afeaki (Wellington, capt), M Te Pou (Limerick). Substitutes: T Alatini (North Harbour), L Lokotui (Hawkes Bay), S Tui'pulotu (Worcester), S Moimoi (Manukau), T Filisi (Bay of Plenty), A Lutui (Bay of Plenty), C Hala'ufia (Police Blues).

Referee: Rob Dickson (Scotland).

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