Coach Toutai Kefu admitted his Tonga side had been totally outclassed by top-ranked Ireland in their World Cup opener on Saturday but hoped they could land a few more punches in Pool B.
Tongan hopes of making an impact in France had been high after drafting in a handful of former All Blacks to their squad but the 59-16 loss in Nantes was a numbing reality check for the Ikale Tahi.
“Honestly, too good for us. Very clinical, that’s why they’re the best team in the world,” said Kefu, a World Cup winner with the Wallabies in 1999.
“We’re disappointed. We’ll regroup and see what we can salvage out of this performance.”
Tonga skipper Ben Tameifuna said the fact Ireland had already played a World Cup match while the Pacific islanders were kicking their heels in their Paris training camp might have been a factor.
“There were a few boys on the team that were playing their first game tonight in the World Cup and I think it’s an eye opener as to what it takes to play at this level,” he said.
Tonga looked competitive for large periods of the game and were in touch on the scoreboard until Ireland scored three tries in 11 minutes before halftime.
Former All Black Vaea Fifita scored a try during a period of intense Tongan pressure just before the break but backs like Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa were unable to find the space to show their class.
They had also hoped to make the scrum a weapon but the precision of the Irish in all areas of the game helped negate the power of the Tongans.
“We’re going to take the learnings and move forward,” the 150kg Tameifuna added.
“There were plenty of positives but plenty of one-percenters that we need to work on.”
The path does not get any easier for the Tongans with matches against in-form Scotland and world champions South Africa before their final pool match against Romania.
“We’ll dissect this game, we’ll regroup. We’re still in this competition,” added Kefu.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to throw a little bit more punches next week.”