Preview: Wales v Tonga

Wales and Tonga face off in a June International Test in the first game of a double-header at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday.

It will be played as the curtain-raiser to New Zealand's clash with Samoa which kicks off at the same venue directly afterwards.

For Tonga the match serves as crucial preparation for their upcoming Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifiers against Samoa on July 1 and Fiji on July 8.

The match will be almost like a home game for Tonga as it is being played in New Zealand where they will have many fans coming out to support them.

Wales will face Samoa the weekend afterwards and will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing Six Nations campaign in which they finished fifth and suffered unexpected losses to Scotland and France.

The Welsh have named eight uncapped players in the matchday 23 with three of those in the starting lineup, including Scarlets winger Steffan Evans who finished as the top try-scorer in the PRO12 this season.

Tonga have never beaten Wales in a competitive fixture. However, the sides have only met twice in Tonga with Wales usually enjoying the home advantage.

Tonga will be well up for it in Auckland. More and more of their players are plying their trade in the big leagues in Europe and the gap is definitely narrowing between the so-called minnows and the big nations.

It is likely to be a compelling game tactically as Wales are set to employ a power-based forward game whereas Tonga should play an expansive game focusing on their offloading and good handling as they try build continuity on attack.

Players to Watch

For Wales: Jamie Roberts will skipper the Welsh side and is vastly experienced having won 94 caps for his country. He is a dangerous runner with ball in hand and will be looking to exploit any miscommunication in the Tongan backline. Steffan Evans finished as the top try-scorer in this season's PRO12 for his club Scarlets. He possesses wonderful pace and a deceiving side-step coupled with good upper body strength.

For Tonga: 

David Halaifonua has enjoyed a successful season with Gloucester in the Premiership and has proven himself to be a good counter-attacking option. He has a keen understanding of where the space is behind the opposition defence. Racing 92 tighthead prop Ben Tameifuna is one of the most destructive scrummagers in World Rugby. Weighing in at 134kg, we have seen Tameifuna dismantle opposition scrums since his days playing for the Chiefs in Super Rugby.

Head-to-head: Tonga captain Siale Piutau, who plies his trade with Bristol in the Premiership, is on a collision course with Scott Williams of Scarlets with both players wearing the number 13 jersey for their respective sides. Piutau carries hard and is a reliable defender. Williams is only 26 years of age but has already won 46 caps for Wales and has established himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet in the Welsh side.

Previous results:

2013: Wales won 17-7 in Cardiff
2003: Wales won 27-20 in Canberra
2001: Wales won 51-7 in Cardiff
1997: Wales won 46-12 in Swansea
1994: Wales won 18-9 in Nuku A'lofa
1987: Wales won 29-16 in Palmerston North
1986: Wales won 15-7 in Nuku A'lofa

Prediction: Wales possess too many world-class players and the gulf in class between the sides is still too wide. Wales by 20.

The teams:

Wales: 15 Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues, 9 caps, 14 Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues, 46 caps), 13 Scott Williams (Scarlets, 46 caps), 12 Jamie Roberts (c) (Harlequins, 94 caps), 11 Steffan Evans (Scarlets, uncapped), 10 Sam Davies (Ospreys, 6 caps), 9 Gareth Davies (Scarlets, 24 caps), 8 Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues, 1 cap), 7 Thomas Young (Wasps, uncapped), 6 Aaron Shingler (Scarlets, 8 caps), 5 Cory Hill (Newport Gwent Dragons, 5 caps), 4 Seb Davies (Cardiff Blues, uncapped), 3 Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs, 22 caps), 2 Kristian Dacey (Cardiff Blues, 3 caps), 1 Nicky Smith (Ospreys, 12 caps)
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias (Scarlets, uncapped), 17 Wyn Jones (Scarlets, uncapped), 18 Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues, uncapped), 19 Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Blues, 3 caps), 20 Ollie Griffiths (Newport Gwent Dragons, uncapped), 21 Aled Davies (Scarlets, uncapped), 22 Owen Williams (Gloucester, uncapped), 23 Cory Allen (Ospreys, 4 caps)

Tonga: 15 David Halaifonua, 14 Nafi Tu’itavake, 13 Siale Piutau (c), 12 Vili Tahitu’a, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Latiume Fosita, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Valentino Mapapalangi, 7 Nili Latu, 6 Dan Faleafa, 5 Sitiveni Mafi, 4 Leva Fifita, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Latu Talakai
Replacements: 16 Suliasi Taufalele, 17 Sila Puafisi, 18 Phil Kite, 19 Sione Tau, 20 Mike Faleafa, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Kali Hala, 23 Kiti Taimani

Date: Friday, June 16
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-Off: 17:30 local (05:30 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand

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