Rugby World Cup 2011
Tonga fire World Cup warning
Finau Maka (File)
Auckland - The fearless physical approach of Pacific Island rugby took centre stage Monday in the countdown to the Rugby World Cup, four days before the tournament opens here.
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.
In Pool A, Tonga face rugby heavyweights the All Blacks and France while Fiji and Samoa are in Pool D with defending champions South Africa and Wales.
Tonga, who kick off the tournament against the top-ranked All Blacks on Friday and will likely have to beat France to reach the quarter-finals, warned they would not hold back on their confrontational style.
All Blacks strongman Ben Franks said he was prepared to take a punch in the face if it meant a player would be sent off, but added he could not afford to retaliate.
Tonga hold the record for the most red cards in the history of the rugby showpiece tournament with three and share the lead of seven yellow cards with France.
Their captain, France-based Finau Maka, 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. 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.
"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."
One of five key areas the 10 World Cup referees have been is the tackle area with zero tolerance for high tackles, grabbing and twisting of the head and tip tackles.
Tonga arrived in New Zealand Monday to the biggest reception for a World Cup side with 4 000 members of Auckland's large island community at the airport outnumbering the crowd at the All Blacks civic reception on Saturday.
Thousands more mobbed the Tongans when they stopped at a church on the way to their hotel, forcing police to block off the road and divert traffic.
With most of the 20 competing teams spread out at their bases across New Zealand, Australia assembled in Sydney on the eve of their departure with coach Robbie Deans declaring confidence in his young side.
But he said they could not rest on their laurels after claiming their first Tri-Nations crown in a decade last month, beating the All Blacks 25-20 in the tournament decider in Brisbane.
"It's a new tournament and a new challenge. We will have to work twice as hard as we did against the Springboks and All Blacks earlier this year because they are going to be hungrier," Deans said.
Ireland, who open their campaign against the United States in New Plymouth on Sunday, had their ranks bolstered with the arrival of Cian Healy and Gordon D'Arcy following their delayed departures because of injury,
However, England confirmed Lewis Moody continued to be troubled by a knee injury aggravated in a match against Wales a month ago and has been ruled out of their first game against England in Dunedin on Saturday.