‘Ikale Tahi coach Toutai Kefu believes the team will be better in the long run after losing both tests on their November tour.
Tonga opened their account by beating the French Barbarians before a 74-24 drubbing by Wales and a 20-9 defeat against Georgia.
Kefu said a host of injuries didn’t help their cause but he still believed the team was on the right track.
“If you look at the Wales game the score got away from us probably in the last 20-25 minutes but we were head-to-head up until about the 50 minute mark,” he said.
“We showed some great character to come back from three early tries down and then we just didn’t manage the territory so well in that last 30, and they had some really seasoned test players coming off the bench that really added impact for them.”
The ‘Ikale Tahi have now lost four straight matches against Georgia, who have moved one place above them in the world rankings.
“They’re kind of like my bogey team now, at the moment, Georgia,” Kefu joked.
“Look they’re a very hard team, a very good team and we were heading into the game quite confident and it was pretty tight all the way through.
“Their last try I didn’t think was a try. I think the TMO got it wrong there so the score should have been a lot closer but there was a few moments that we just didn’t execute and didn’t capitalise on and they got the win.”
Despite back to back defeats, Kefu said the ‘Ikale Tahi were able to implement changes to their playing style this month that will hopefully pay off at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
“We were able to also cap some new players so there’s some really big ticks in terms of identifying new talent but also we were looking at exploring adjusting the way we play in terms of attack and there were some real ticks there as well so pretty big positives to come out of the tour,” he said.
“For any change or adjustment in terms of the way we play you need a fair bit of time together and you need the talent, in terms of the players available, so it’s a good starting point and hopefully next year in our prep time that can all come together.”
Kefu was a central figure in Australia’s 1999 Rugby World Cup win and was also a part of the ‘Ikale Tahi coaching staff during the 2011 tournament when Tonga upset France in Wellington.
He said the Kingdom were looking forward to renewing their rivalry with Les Bleus next year in Japan.
“For us to make the knockout stages we need to win three games and you would think France, Argentina (and) probably USA are the three games we are targeting,” he said.
“We’ve got some confidence against France and although they’re a very good side they’re very unpredictable and we definitely have to be at the top of our game when we meet them at the World Cup.”
Kefu intends to name an extended training squad in the new year, with the final squad expected to come together in mid-June, giving them a three month build-up to the World Cup.
“If we have that three weeks together then the Pacific Nations Cup will be another three weeks – so there’s six weeks already – and then we have our normal three/four week build-up into the World Cup,” he said.
“So it looks like we will just have over eight weeks which is fantastic for us, it’s exactly what we need.”
“There’s a few players that we need to capture so I hope to do that within the next couple of months and we’re looking at probably releasing a 50-man squad early in the new year so my main goal now is just to tie down those players who haven’t played for us yet,” Kefu said.
“There’s probably about four or five of them. If we can get them on board then we’re heading in the right direction.”