History on Tonga's side in bid for World Cup berth
February 8, 2007

Tonga start hot favourites to beat Korea in a rugby World Cup repechage match on Saturday but their veteran player Stanley Afeaki feels it will be a tricky balancing act for the island nation when the teams meet at Waitemata Park in Auckland.

The winner of the tie will qualify directly to join England, South Africa, Samoa and USA in Pool A of the World Cup finals in France later this year.

Tonga, No 3 in the Pacific, played the Koreans for a repechage place in the 1999 and 2003 finals, winning 194-0 on aggregate in 2003.

"It's a tricky one because we know we can beat them but at the same time we have to see what's out there in terms of our up-and-coming players," said Afeaki, a veteran of the 2003 campaign.

"It's a balance between us winning and also developing players, which includes looking at our home-based players.

"This latter option is also cheaper for the union."

Like fellow Pacific nations, Fiji and Samoa, Tonga are strengthened by the fact that many of their top stars play overseas.

However, the logistics in returning for one-off tests can put a strain on the players.

"There is a sacrifice involved for most professional players to get out of contracts," Afeaki, a loose forward, said.

"Most guys have families to support and for them to leave whatever contracts they have is quite a big burden.

"But it is cherished quite highly to play for Tonga, it's something that you're always very proud to do."

Uruguay plays Portugal in the final repechage match in March for a spot in Pool C with New Zealand, Scotland Italy and Romania.

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