Wisemantel wary of Tonga’s pride ahead of World Cup opener
Scott Wisemantel has braced England to face a nation driven on by their fierce pride at having never been colonised when their World Cup opens in Sapporo on Sunday.
Eddie Jones’ title contenders launch their Japan 2019 campaign against Tonga knowing that even with much of the Islanders’ brightest talent plundered by tier one teams, they can still field a destructive defence.
Wisemantel was part of Samoa’s backroom staff at the 2011 World Cup and for the past two years has overseen the Pacific Combine – a programme to identify talent in Tonga, Fiji and Samoa and secure them professional contracts.
The experience has given England’s attack coach a special insight into the mindset of Sunday’s opponents at the Sapporo Dome.
“They’re great rugby players because they’re built for it! Historically it’s called the Kingdom of Tonga for a reason – they’ve never been defeated in war,” Wisemantel said.
“They’ve gone to other islands and smashed them up, but they’ve never been smashed up and they’re very proud of that.
“You speak to a Tongan and you talk about the country and you say ‘so you’re from Tonga’. Occasionally they’ll say ‘I’m from the Kingdom of Tonga’ and there’s a reason for it. They’re quite fierce in that regard.”
Other than national pride, Wisemantel reveals that Tongan players are also motivated by a deeply ingrained sense of duty.
“The combine gives you an appreciation of why they play and what they play for,” the Australian said.
“The biggest honour for any player is to play for your country, but the second one is that family and looking after the family is extremely important.
“On a stage like the World Cup, for teams like Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, it’s really important that players play well.
“They want to play well for themselves and the team because it puts them on the stage to get a contract.
“Once they get that contract, they can financially look after their families. It’s not just the immediate family, it could be the extended family and the village.”
England enter the first of two Pool C matches in four days as overwhelming favourites, not least after Tonga were recently swept aside 92-7 by New Zealand.
But the most recent meeting between the rivals at the 2007 World Cup was anything but routine as a 36-20 victory was ground out the hard way.
Since then, according to Wisemantel, the Islanders have added subtlety to the feared power that has been their hallmark.
“They’ll always have flare depending on the nation, but you look at guys like Frank Lomani with Fiji, he’s got a kicking game,” Wisemantel said.
“So they’re now refining that part of their game and understanding that it’s not just about power and offloading and razzle dazzle, it’s also about tactically moving teams so that you can then get a bit of the crunch.”
England’s low key camp in Miyazaki ends on Wednesday when they will head to Sapporo with Jones naming his team the following day.