Ranked 3rd in South America, 24th in the world and with no experience in playing at a Rugby World Cup, Chile almost pulled off the upset of the century today in losing 32-30 to Tonga at the Estadio de Atletismo de San Carlos de Apoquindo in Santiago. Tonga are ranked 16th in the world and have been to every Rugby World Cup except for the 1991 tournament and have defeated teams including Italy, Samoa and the United States.
The game took place outside of the IRB test windows of June and November which meant professional clubs did not need to release their players for this contest. Tonga were therefore fielding a number of new players and giving them a chance to impress as the Rugby World Cup approaches. But so were Chile. The county´s best players such as Cristian Westenenk, Sergio Valdés, Francisco de la Fuente, Cristián González, Sebastián Gajardo were all missing. Yet, Chile were not only highly competitive and scored 30 points but they only lost by 2.
The scoring started after ten minutes of play in the first half when Condores flyhalf, Javier Reyes, kicked a penalty. Tonga hit back in the 16th minute with a try to Taumei Hikila which Michael Toloke converted before Reyes slotted his second 3 pointer in the 33rd minute. Tonga responded immediately with Damien Fakafanua scoring his teams second try and Toloke adding the extras. A blow out was not on the cards however, as winger Diego Schachner scored for Chile at the end of the first half.
It took Tonga 3 minutes after the restart to score again through Petuliki Mateo, which Toloke failed to convert and at this stage Tonga were winning 22-11. Reyes kicked three penalties - in the 44th, 48th and 57th minute and replacement Francisco Cruz slotted another at 76 minutes. Tonga kicked one in the 46th minute and Toloke also scored a second half try but Chile kept fighting. Tonga were being penalized for constant violations and as the game drew to a close Tonga collapsed a Chilean maul close to the try line which gave the referee no choice but to award a penalty try to the hosts. With Cruz´s conversion Los Condores had ended the match proudly to close proceedings at 32-30 to Tonga.
Chile secured the fixture looking to the future as the country continues to recieve no tours and also is not able to embark on regular tours due to being overlooked by the IRB who opt to fund other countries, such as Tonga, in preference of the South Americans. Uruguay wanted to also host Tonga but were in no economic situation to put Tonga up in hotels for the necessary time and so have been in talks with others such as Argentina and Brazil about playing warm-up matches ahead of their do or die Rugby World Cup Qualification matches against Romania.
Meanwhile Tonga, a country in Oceania, will participate in the IRB funded Americas Rugby Championship in Cordoba, Argentina starting next week. It will assist Tonga tremendously but Tonga is not part of the Americas. Conversely, American countries including Chile and Uruguay are both excluded from the tournament. Tonga have two domestic teams who play in the IRB´s Pacific Rugby Cup vs two from Fiji and two from Samoa. While the national side competes annually in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup vs Fiji, Japan and Samoa. Chile and Uruguay have no comparable rugby of any kind and receive little funding from the IRB.
The result raises the question of why South America is the worlds only continent that is not awarded automatic qualification places for Rugby World Cup? Clearly the continent merits more funding and the same opportunities as others. A competition such as the Pacific Rugby Cup is not only lacking but is truely needed in South America.
Tonga will open Rugby World Cup 2011 vs the World´s number one ranked team, New Zealand in less than a year.
1. Francisco Deformes, 2. Alejandro Ríos, 3. Sergio De la Fuente, 4. Pablo Huete, 5. Felipe Burgos, 6. Benjamin Del Solar, 7. Matías Cabrera, 8. Rolando Pellerano, 9. Aldo Cornejo, 10. Javier Reyes, 11. Diego Schachner, 12. Ricardo Sifri, 13. Álvaro Tapia, 14. Felipe Brangier, 15. Germán Herrera
Bench: 16. Nicolás Venegas, 17. Alfonso Lepe, 18. Salomón Díaz, 19. Ignacio Silva, 20. Manuel Gurruchaga, 21. Juan Pablo Perrota, 22. Francisco Cruz
1. Viliami Pola, 2. Kamaleeli Sakalia, 3. Makoni Finau, 4. Taumei Hikila, 5. Paea Siulangapo, 6. Sione Vaioleti, 7. Rutihka Iloalahia, 8. Matini Tupou (Captain), 9. Soane Havea, 10. Fangatapu Apikotoa, 11. Etueni Siua, 12. Damien Fakafanua, 13. Petuliki Mateo, 14. Michael Toloke, 15. Viliami Hakalo
Bench: 16. Pataleone Vi, 17. Sioeli Faupula, 18. Talite Vaioleti, 19. Kuea Kolokihakaufiji, 20. Mahe Fangupo, 21. Tatafu Naaniumotu, 22. Mesui Lemoto
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