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Tonga laments short turnaround

THERE was no outrageous statement linking the IRB to slavery and other odious practices, just a quiet insistence from Tonga playmaker Kurt Morath that things have to change before the 2015 tournament in England.

Morath's six from seven evening with the boot was the difference as the islanders got their campaign off to a belated start with a 31-18 win over Japan in Whangarei.

It came after the high of being in the World Cup opener to the shocking low of their blown lead against Canada.

That result came after a four-day turnaround, the sort of short lead-in that so raised the ire of Samoa before their pivotal Pool D clash against Wales.

"We don't like to say it did affect us, but when you play the opening game of the World Cup, there was a lot of emphasis placed on that," Morath said.

"After the result we came down quite a bit and it was difficult to get back up again with the short turnaround.

It's not something we like to say was an issue for us, but obviously having the longer turnaround [ahead of Japan] was better."

The short breaks thrust upon the minnows have become a hot-button issue. Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu's tweets accusing the IRB of exploitation have gone unpunished because the ludicrous analogies with slavery, apartheid and the Holocaust hid a large kernel of truth: for arguably the most important pool game of the tournament, it was incomprehensible that one team would get a seven-day turnaround, the other four.

"With the smaller nations especially, we've got all the short turnarounds. The squads aren't as strong as some of the big teams so trying to put out your same XV or 22 takes a bit of a toll," Morath continued. "Maybe there's something they can change there, longer turnarounds for the lower-ranked teams to give us a chance.

They now have the ridiculous situation of a 10-day break before facing France in Wellington on October 1.

There they will set their sights on a French team they genuinely believe they can beat.

Coach Isitola Maka was talking up their chances.

"We've got one game left and we've got nothing to lose, especially when we play against teams like France, who are No 4 in the world," Maka said.

"The win tonight gives us confidence to take them on next week."

His players, who deviated horribly from instructions at the end of the Canada test, were this time in step with his thinking.

"The self-belief is there to beat France," said Morath, before cautioning that, "it's a mental thing. It depends whether we turn up on the day or not. We can be a bit inconsistent at times, which can be our downfall."

The Tongan camp post-Canada defeat was not a happy one.

The players admitted the mood was dark.

"Last week we let ourselves down and this was about getting some respect back for ourselves and the Tongan community, the people that turn up for us every week," Morath said.

France have more important matters in hand than Tonga right now, but it goes without saying that if they do not get the result they want tomorrow night against New Zealand, a well-rested and confident Tonga is not an opponent they will be looking forward to seeing in a week or so's time.



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