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Rugby-Tongans focus on Asian qualifiers after moving closer to World Cup

·2-min read
Rugby World Cup - Tonga Training

(Reuters) - Tonga captain Sonatane Takulua has set his sights on securing the one remaining win necessary to take the Pacific Islanders back to the Rugby World Cup after seeing off the Cook Islands to move closer to the finals in France.

The Tongans have appeared at every World Cup since 1987 bar one, having failed to qualify in 1991, and, after Saturday's 54-10 success over the Cook Islands in Pukekohe, New Zealand, Takulua and his team are one game from qualifying once more.

"It means a lot giving us a positive outcome to finish off our campaign," he said.

"We have one more to go. We just got to build on and take the goods from here and work towards the last game."

Tonga will next face the winners of the Asia Rugby Championship, which is scheduled to be played in January and features Hong Kong, South Korea and Malaysia.

The winners of the playoff will be placed in Pool B at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, alongside South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and the second place finisher in the European qualifiers.

Tonga had struggled to field a team after being unable to call up their Europe-based players due to travel restrictions in place in New Zealand.

But they were still too strong for a Cook Islands team playing their first game in three years, with Takulua and Sione Tuipolotu both scoring a pair of tries.

"You just don't know about those games, and the first 10 minutes they put up a really, really good fight," Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said.

"We knew if we kept the pressure on, we could finally break them and we thought probably just after halftime we could feel a little more comfortable.

"But to their credit we understand all the challenges they go through, so we're very happy and relieved to get the win tonight."

(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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