Tonga kick off the World Cup against the top-ranked All Blacks on Friday and warned they would not hold back on their confrontational style.
With their bruising approach, Tonga have a reputation for causing upsets but lack the skills to be considered serious challengers and have not faced a top-tier nation since the last World Cup.
Bone-crunching tackles and bruising collisions at the breakdown were portrayed as an essential part of their game if they are to have any chance of progressing to the play-off rounds.
Tonga hold the record for the most red cards in the history of rugby’s showpiece event with three and share the lead of seven yellow cards with France.
Captain Finau Maka, however, believed the days of punching have long been erased from the Tongan armoury but said like the other island teams Samoa and Fiji, they relished hard, physical contact.
“We won’t hold back on the physical approach, definitely,” he said.
“I think our three Pacific island teams like to play physical games so we’re just going to take it to the All Blacks on Friday and see if they can stop us.”
Tonga coach, Maka’s brother and former All Black Isitolo Maka added his side could not match the way South Africa and Australia beat the All Blacks in their last two outings but they had muscle as their weapon.
“Our strength is in the contact area,” he said although he was concerned about the refereeing of “the big tackles” the Tongans are noted for.
One of five key areas the ten World Cup referees have been is the tackle area with zero tolerance for high tackles, grabbing and twisting of the head and tip tackles.
“Sometimes they’re fair tackles but they (the referees) will keep an eye on one team, one side, and that’s a worry for us.”
The odds are heavily stacked against Tonga with the All Blacks winning their three previous matches against their Pacific island neighbours by an average 79-5 margin.
Meanwhile, Tonga will kick off the World Cup’s haka wars after they were given the nod to start their traditional pre-match war dance ahead of New Zealand in the World Cup opener.
Tournament director Kit McConnell said Tonga had the right to start their haka ahead of hosts New Zealand, who then have the option of trying to out-shout their rivals or waiting until they have finished.
At least two World Cup games will feature a clash of hakas with Fiji also due to play Samoa on September 25.
McConnell said Tonga would start first as they were designated ‘Team A’ for the match at Auckland’s Eden Park, which will also be preceded by a glitzy opening ceremony.