Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
watch listen BBC Sport BBC Sport
Low graphics|Help
Last Updated: Friday, 10 August 2007, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
The Head Hunters: Tongan rugby
By Sean Davies
BBC Sport

Nick name: Ikale Tahi (Sea Eagles)
Colours: Red and white
Anthem: Pule'anga Tonga
War dance: The Kailao (aka the Sipi Tau)

Inoke Afeaki

Rugby was brought to Tonga by sailors and missionaries, and their RFU was formed in 1923.

The islanders' Test history began the following year with a 9-6 victory over Fiji, and further matches followed against their Pacific neighbours, against Western Samoa, and the New Zealand Maori.

But it was not until 1973 that the Sea Eagles played their second official Test, a 30-12 defeat against Australia in Sydney.

The following year they travelled to the Arms Park for a non-cap international against Wales, a game that ended in a 26-7 victory to the home side.

They remained a little-known quantity in 1986 when a promising young Welsh side embarked on a tour of the South Pacific - Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa.

It was the worst brawl I have ever seen on a rugby field

Robert Jones on Tonga v Wales, 1986


The side enjoyed a winning start in the paradise surroundings of Fiji and moved on to Tonga in fine fettle.

Captain Dai Pickering had been injured in Fiji, and the combative qualities of the new leader - Richard Moriarty - would prove essential for the next leg of the tour.

The Welsh boys were immediately shocked by the poverty they witnessed in Tonga, alarmed at the quality of the accommodation and lack of outside contacts, and - according to Robert Jones - continually hassled by local transvestites!

If this was a shock, worse was to follow...

In the tiny dressing room in Teufaiva used for the Test match, prop Stuart Evans smashed a window, and it took all the persuasive powers of the Welsh management to stop the police arresting him before the game.

Mass brawl

Out on the pitch the problems escalated. Early in the game Pontypool flanker Mark Brown was flattened by three Tongan forwards, leading to a mass brawl involving the entire team except Malcolm Dacey and Mark Titley.

You are the dirtiest team I have ever played against

Jonathan Davies' post-Tonga v Wales speech in 1986

With Adrian Hadley out cold and Evans and Billy James on the floor, Bleddyn Bowen fled before the onslaught of ferocious Tongan prop Tevita Bloomfield.

The unfortunate Bowen leapt into the crowd for protection - and was promptly thrown back onto the field!

Robert Jones describes the event in his book "Raising the Dragon" as "the worst brawl I have ever seen on a rugby field."

The mood of a shocked Welsh squad was lifted at the post-match dinner.

Jonathan Davies was asked to give a few words in Welsh and as the hosts politely applauded he described them as "the dirtiest team I have ever played against!"

World Cup

Sililo Martens in action against Wales at the 2003 World Cup
Numerous Tongan players have won pro contracts in Wales

The experience left Wales understandably apprehensive when they were drawn to play the Tongans in the inaugural 1987 World Cup in New Zealand.

This fact, plus the decision to rest some of the leading players, led to a poor Welsh performance.

Tempers were again raised in the face of some head-high Tongan tackling.

One hit from their full-back Tali Ete'aki on Bridgend's Glen Webbe left the wing concussed.

It didn't seem to have much effect, though - the dazed Webbe went on to score a hat-trick in Wales' 29-16 win, although he nearly forgot to place the third one down as he stood in the clear under the posts!

After these bruising experiences it was perhaps as well that seven years passed before the next encounter between the two sides.

A scrappy, try-less, but uncontroversial game in Nuku'alofa saw Neil Jenkins boot Wales to an 18-9 success.

With the Millennium Stadium in its foetal stage, Swansea's St Helen's played host to the Tongans for their first Test in Wales in 1997.

Driving rain blew across Swansea Bay so that even the famous sandy pitch at St Helen's struggled to cope, spoiling any hope of a free-flowing encounter.

The changing face of professional rugby was reflected in the four Welsh-based Tongans in the tourists' side - Ta'u, Tiueti, Taumalolo and Faletau.

Gareth Cooper scores against Tonga in 2003
Wales struggled against Tonga in the 2003 World Cup

Kevin Bowring's side was full of attacking intent despite the conditions and managed to run in six tries in a 46-12 victory.

The islanders returned to Wales in 2001 for their first taste of the Millennium Stadium.

Graham Henry-mania was well on the wane, but the growing pressure on Wales' Kiwi coach was eased by a 51-7 victory over the indisciplined Tongans, new captain Scott Quinnell inspiring his team and scoring one of their six tries.

A second World Cup encounter followed between the two teams, at Canberra's Bruce Stadium in 2003.

Wales put in an error-strewn display and were outscored by three tries to two, but emerged with a 27-20 win.

Wales v Tonga: Full record
10 Aug 07 |  Rugby Union
Tongan anthem & war dance
10 Aug 07 |  Rugby Union
Scrum V's rugby history
11 Aug 07 |  Scrum V Extras


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Daily and weekly e-mails | Mobiles | Desktop Tools | News Feeds | Interactive Television | Downloads
Sport Homepage | Football | Cricket | Rugby Union | Rugby League | Tennis | Golf | Motorsport | Boxing | Athletics | Snooker | Horse Racing | Cycling | Disability sport | Olympics 2012 | Sport Relief | Other sport...

Help | Privacy & Cookies Policy | News sources | About the BBC | Contact us