Tonga's halves hailed for leadership
After helping their side to five tries in a 32-18 victory over Toa Samoa on Saturday night, Mate Ma'a Tonga's young halves have been hailed for their on-field leadership.
As two of the least experienced players in the star-studded Tongan team, Ata Hingano and Tuimoala Lolohea were identified as a potential weakness prior to the World Cup, but silenced any doubters with a convincing showing at Waikato Stadium in week two.
"I thought our halves did a terrific job, everyone has spoken about our halves and that's where our inexperience is, but they won that game tonight," coach Kristian Woolf said.
"They certainly outplayed the opposition's halves and their kicking was exceptional, they built pressure in everything they did."
Between them 20-year-old Hingano and Lolohea, 22, set up three tries and ran for over 100 metres against Samoa.
Perhaps most impressive though was the way the pair finished sets, finding success off their kicking game where they targeted Samoa winger Ken Maumalo in the air, with Tonga scoring their first two tries off his errors while attempting to retrieve the ball.
"I thought we kicked to our strengths, and obviously Daniel Tupou's a real strength of ours, and if Dave Fusitu'a isn't at fullback then he's a real strength as well, so we've got to kick to them," Woolf said.
"I thought we did a really good job in building pressure on our fifth play, and those two young halves did a terrific job there, and so did Siliva Havili and Sione Katoa at different times."
Post-match Lolohea expressed satisfaction with his own performance and believed his combination with Hingano was improving, along with the pair becoming more comfortable with directing the likes of Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita around the park.
"Ata and I are young halves, there's not a lot of experience with us playing our first World Cup and we haven't played too many first-grade games, it's a hard job coming in as young guys and trying to play some good footy," Lolohea said.
"A big focus has been on demanding the big boys and trying to get us around the park, and our fifth-tackle options.
"I was pretty happy with what we did tonight and I felt like we controlled the team around the park pretty well for the 80 minutes.
"I am pretty proud of my effort tonight."
Meanwhile Woolf said Hingano was no certainty to take the field against New Zealand on Saturday night, revealing the New Zealand Warriors playmaker played through injury for much of the final 40 minutes in Hamilton.
"Young Ata Hingano hurt his ankle in that second half, he was good enough to get through the game, which is always a good sign with injuries," Woolf said.
"So we're just going to have to have a look at things, obviously there might be some blokes who are a bit modified."