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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Tonga tipped for semis
Inoke Afeaki
Afeaki wants more focus on the national side
Tonga have been tipped as future World Cup semi-finalists by captain Inoke Afeaki, if they can turn around their training regime.

Currently the Pacific Islanders' players are dotted across the globe, in places as far apart as Wales, Japan and New Zealand.

The geographical distance between the squad as well as their club contracts means the full-strength Tongan side will not even be at October's World Cup start.

Afeaki told the BBC Sport website: "On our day, Tonga can beat anyone in the world. But at the moment we're too widespread and meet too infrequently to pose a serious challenge.

"Hopefully that'll change and, if it does sufficiently, we'll be pushing for a semi-final spot in a couple of World Cups time."

This time around, Tonga must face New Zealand, Wales, Italy and Canada to book a place in the knock-out section of the tournament.

But the players will arrive for their first training camp having had little experience as a squad in the last 12 months.

They have played just five warm-up games, playing Korea and Fiji twice as well as a one-off Test against Ireland.

We need to take risks to get the rewards
Tonga captain Inoke Afeaki

And Afeaki said: "At the moment we're in the top 10 in world rugby but we need to get things sorted out.

"We don't have the luxury of training camps and working heavily on fitness or regular matches for that matter. It's so hard to get people in the same place at one time.

"People have to do the work away from the team and we just hope they turn up in good condition."

A number of the Tongan squad will miss the World Cup because the tournament clashes with club commitments in New Zealand's National Provincial Championships.

Afeaki, who used to ply his trade in New Zealand, said: "The players have got to make a choice and effectively they are doing a job and need to keep their jobs.

"But we need to change this if Tonga are to become a force.

"We need to be playing our club rugby more closely to each other as well as ensuring our clubs allow us time off for regular team camps.

"It's a bit of a headache. If we can manage players better around the world, we will be much better. So far for us it has been a case of who's available whenever.

"We need to take risks to get the rewards."

Links to more Tonga stories



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