SAPPORO, Japan (Reuters) – Loose forward Nasi Manu completed a dream return to rugby after a battle with testicular cancer on Friday when he was named in the Tonga matchday squad for their opening World Cup clash against England in Sapporo.
The number eight will back up Maama Vaipulu from the bench on Sunday after being given the nod by coach Toutai Kefu for his first test since June last year against the Pool C favourites.
Manu was diagnosed with cancer last year and underwent surgery and chemotherapy before being given the all-clear by his Italian doctors earlier this year.
The 31-year-old former Otago Highlanders captain was named to lead Tonga during this year’s Pacific Nations Cup but was a late withdrawal with a pectoral injury.
Manu also missed Tonga’s final match ahead of the global showpiece against the All Blacks, which resulted in a morale-sapping 92-7 demolition at the hands of the world champions.
He was reduced to tears at the welcoming ceremony for Tonga in Japan earlier this week and told the tournament website there might be more when he gets on the pitch to face the 2003 world champions.
“(It’s) not only the surgery and chemotherapy, but also the physical battle to get myself in good enough shape,” he said.
“There would probably be more (tears) but I hope not. I need to tackle some big men and crying might come across as a sign of weakness.”
With first choice hooker Paula Ngauamo still struggling with a calf problem, Sosefo Sakalia will start in the middle of the front row after recovering from a rib problem of his own.
Siua Maile, who was working as a roofer in Christchurch before being called into the World Cup squad for his test debut against the All Blacks, was named as replacement hooker.
Siua Halanukonuka made way for Ben Tameifuna at tighthead prop and the front row is completed by Siegfried Fisiihoi, who had extensive Super Rugby experience in New Zealand before heading to Scotland.
The backline will be marshalled by experienced flyhalf Kurt Morath with skipper Siale Piutau moving to outside centre to make way in the number 12 shirt for Cooper Vuna, who played two tests on the wing for Australia in 2012.
15-David Halaifonua, 14-Atieli Pakalani, 13-Siale Piutau (captain), 12-Cooper Vuna, 11-Viliami Lolohea, 10-Kurt Morath, 9-Sonatane Takulua, 8-Maama Vaipulu, 7-Fotu Lokotui, 6-Sione Kalamafoni, 5-Leva Fifita, 4-Sam Lousi, 3-Ben Tameifuna, 2-Sosefo Sakalia, 1-Siegfried Fisiihoi
Replacements: 16-Siua Maile, 17-Latu Talakai, 18-Ma’afu Fia, 19-Dan Faleafa, 20-Nasi Manu, 21-Leon Fukofuka, 22-James Faiva, 23-Nafi Tu’itavake
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney and Ian Ransom)