KUMAMOTO, Japan (Reuters) – Forget rugby at the World Cup – Tonga are mixing things up with soccer and tennis at training before they head into their Pool C clash with three-times finalists France on Sunday.
The Pacific islanders booted around a soccer ball and practised one-handed catches with tennis balls as they went through their paces at Kumamoto Stadium at a light training session on Saturday.
The standards were mixed, with beefy prop forwards having the odd fresh-air shot at the soccer ball when it rolled in their direction.
Tonga’s Australian assistant coach Grant Doorey said it was all about decompressing before putting their game faces on.
“Tongans have fun, family and faith as core values and we make sure there is a time to have fun and then make the change mentally,” he told reporters at the stadium.
“It’s an important part of how you prepare and I think there’s enough pressure in the modern world and in test rugby.”
While losing to Pool C rivals England and Argentina, the Tongans have been competitive in Japan and will hope to repeat their stunning upset of Les Bleus at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand where they won 19-14 in Wellington.
France are unbeaten after a tight win over Argentina and a laboured victory over the United States.
France coach Jacques Brunel on Friday remarked that the Tongans were physical and aggressive but not as “athletic” as the Americans, who his team struggled to put away 33-9 in Fukuoka on Wednesday.
Doorey was not enamoured of the comment.
“It depends on how you measure athleticism,” he said. “It might be just a simple message to his team. We all have strengths and we tend to focus on ours.”
(Writing by Ian Ransom; editing by Tony Lawrence)