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Mate Ma'a Tonga v England Lions

6.00pm, Saturday, November 25

Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland


The Lions against the Woolf; it reads like a Game of Thrones battle between the Lannisters and the Starks, but in reality it's the much-hyped showdown between Wayne Bennett's England and Kristian Woolf's Tonga as they duke it out for a spot in the World Cup final. 

Tonga headed into the tournament with plenty of fanfare after it was revealed Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita had switched allegiances to the Pacific nation, and Mate Ma'a then walked the walk when it stunned New Zealand to top Pool B.

However, its fairytale run almost ended in tragedy against Lebanon in the quarter-final, only for Tonga to hang on in a thriller to book a spot in the final four. 

England's path to the semis has been relatively smooth, although it hasn't been anywhere near its best since falling to Australia in the tournament opener. 

It faced a tricky challenge in the form of PNG last week, but the Lions' quest to reach the decider for the first time since 1995 was rarely challenged as they survived a horror error rate to claim a comfortable 36-6 win. 

Wayne Bennett has named the same 17 that took care of the Kumuls while Sio Siua Taukeiaho returns for Tonga in the front row.


Why Tonga can win: Speed, size, talent and belief; there are a number of reasons why Tonga can knock over England, but perhaps the most surprising factor on Saturday evening will be completion rates. After an error-riddled start against Scotland, Mate Ma'a has completed at least 80 per cent of its sets in each of the last three games. It mightn't seem like much but it's a huge stat for a team that likes to throw the ball around. The Tongans' ability to respect the football also means their forwards don't have to use as much petrol in defence; a nightmare scenario for opposition middle men. You'd expect ball control to be an area where England would dominate, but Wayne Bennett's men have been sloppy throughout the tournament and were lucky not to be punished by the Kumuls having completed just 57 per cent of their sets in the quarter-final win. If they continue to cough up the footy against Tonga then it will be curtains for England's World Cup campaign.


Why England can win: Knockout football is usually won in the forwards and while the battle in the middle will be worth the price of admission, expect fireworks on the fringes when two of the most in-form centre-wing pairings collide. The Konrad Hurrell-David Fusitu'a showdown with John Bateman and Ryan Hall will be fun, but it's the other flank that has mouths watering. They won a premiership at the Roosters, and it hasn't taken long for Michael Jennings and Daniel Tupou to gel with the pair combining for seven tries and three assists on the left edge for Tonga. As good as they've been, England's right edge of Kallum Watkins and Jermaine McGillvary have been even better. The two have combined for nine tries and five assists and were responsible for England's win last week. McGillvary ran for 232 metres, had four line breaks, scored two tries and set up two more while his centre partner gained 193 metres, bagged a double and created two more in a stunning showing on the right flank. Both pairings are capable of coming up with huge plays, and Saturday's contest could very well come down to a moment of magic from one of the four electrifying outside backs.  


The history: Played 2; England 2; Tonga 0. The sides met twice back in the 2006 Federation Shield, with England's 'A' side winning on both occasions. 



England Lions | Gareth Widdop; Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, John Bateman, Ryan Hall; Kevin Brown, Luke Gale; Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson, James Graham; Samuel Burgess, Elliott Whitehead; Sean O'Loughlin (c). Interchange: Alex Walmsley, Thomas Burgess, Ben Currie, James Roby, Jonny Lomax, Chris Heighington, Mark Percival, Scott Taylor.

Mate Ma’a Tonga | Will Hopoate; Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Konrad Hurrell, David Fusitu’a; Tuimoala Lolohea, Mafoa'aeata Hingano; Andrew Fifita, Siliva Havili, Sio Siua Taukeiaho; Manu Ma'u, Sika Manu (c); Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: Sione Katoa, Peni Terepo, Tevita Pangai Junior, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Sam Moa, Manu Vatuvei, Joe Ofahengaue, Samisoni Langi.

Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Sideline officials: Chris Butler and Robert Hicks


Televised: SKY Sport 2 - live coverage from 5.30pm; 7Mate – live coverage from 4pm. predicts: English fans could very well be drowning their sorrows by the time this match gets under way with their cricket side likely to have lost the opening Test inside three days, but we're predicting some better news in New Zealand with England set to grind their way to a seven-point win.

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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