They might have ended up on the wrong side of a 59-16 score-line on Saturday evening, but Tonga didn’t go down without a fight against Ireland, who are, of course, currently the number one ranked team in the world.

The Pacific Islanders didn’t deliver anything we don’t routinely expect from teams which hail from that part of the world – big hits, hard running and raw aggression at the contact area – but it was a timely and pointed reminder of what lies in store for Scotland six days time.
With both teams now having lost their opening matches – Scotland going down 18-3 to South Africa a fortnight ago – next Sunday’s clash in Nice is do-or-die regardless of where your loyalties lie. And while the World Rankings suggest that it should be a comfortable win for the team in blue [Scotland are currently fifth and Tonga are 16th], there are enough potential game-changers in the red team’s ranks to ensure that it is far from a foregone conclusion.

It is true that Scotland swept to a 60-14 win the last time these two nations met on a rugby field at the start of the 2021 Autumn Test series, but that game was played outside World Rugby’s international window and therefore both sides had several frontline players missing. With far smaller human and financial resources, not to mention development opportunities, it is inevitable that this would have a disproportionate impact on Tonga’s ability to field a truly competitive side.

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Furthermore, Tonga have now embraced World Rugby’s relatively new three-year stand-down rule – which allows a capped player to switch allegiance to a country to which they have “a close and credible link via birthright” so long as they complete a three-year cooling off period – to bring in the likes of full-back Salesi [formerly Charles] Piutau, outside-centre Malakai Fekitoa and scrum-half Augustine Pulu, who are all former All Blacks.

While there won’t be any of the same players involved, Scotland’s 2012 loss to Tonga in Aberdeen is perhaps a more useful case study for Gregor Townsend’s side to consider this week, as a reminder of their opponents’ ability to upset the apple-cart. While they're at it, the Scots might also want to keep in mind the ʻIkale Tahi’s famous victory over France at the 2011 World Cup.

“I watched it but had to turn the TV off after 55 minutes as it was past my bed-time,” revealed Scotland's Richie Gray yesterday, when asked for his thoughts on Tonga’s performance the previous night. “They started really well, very physical, caused a lot of problems until Ireland started to get into their shape, and some of their set-piece stuff was good

“They looked dangerous, with Piatau causing a lot of issues in the backfield,  and we saw the physicality you expect from Tonga with some huge hits going in, which is what happens if you let them line you up in defence. So, we are under no illusions about how tough they are going to be.

“It is going to be chaotic – you are going to have big boys coming out of the line trying to hit you hard,” he added. “They made a real mess of the Irish breakdown early in the match, putting a lot of pressure on the scrum-half and spooked him a bit.

“They had Ireland rattled before Ireland eventually got into their shape and then you saw how much that structure caused Tonga difficulties.  So, the plan for us will be to stay in our shape as much as possible no matter what they throw at us, because when we do that, it will make life hard for them.

One area where Scotland must make big improvements from the France game is at the line-out, which is Gray’s particular area of responsibility.
“There wasn’t a massive amount of aerial pressure from South Africa, so that’s frustrating and we have come up with a few things to get right this week so that we are ready for Tonga,” said the 6ft 10ins second-row. “It has had to be a real focus for us this week because you can’t afford to come second best at set-piece against any team at this level.

“It’s a great way to launch your attack and it gets you into shape, so we know how important it is and we have to get it right.”

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After taking a couple of days off following the South Africa defeat, the Scotland team have had three big training days leading into this match week, including a gruelling session yesterday morning.

“It was really tough, especially for a Sunday morning – almost like being back at pre-season, but physical,” said Gray. “We knew the task in hand coming into this Tonga game, and it wasn’t a case of saying ‘let’s start thinking about it on Tuesday’ – we want to make the extra days we have to prepare for this game count.

 “We know what we’ve got to do. We have to win the rest of our games in the group – against Tonga, Romania and then Ireland – to stand a chance of getting through. That’s the focus and we will do everything we can to achieve that, so this is a huge game for us – and also for them because they are in the same boat after losing their opening match.”