Scotland, after falling at the start against South Africa and losing a player who fell down the stairs, will not be able to miss the Tongan march on Sunday (5:45 p.m.) in Nice to maintain hope of seeing the quarter-finals of the World Cup -2023.
Beaten by the Springboks (18-3) despite good resistance in the first half, the Scots emerged relatively unscathed physically from this inaugural shock against the outgoing world champions.
It wasn't until the next day at the team's base camp that hooker David Cherry suffered a concussion slipping down the stairs, forcing him to leave the group.
The XV du Chardon has not played again since. A two-week double-edged break before moving on to Tonga, Romania then Ireland, for a potential “round of 16” against the world's leading nation.
“The players, after a defeat, want to play again immediately,” admitted coach Gregor Townsend. “But we were able to train hard and spend time with our families. Time allows us to heal the wounds.
The former international fly-half made four changes to his starting XV, two up front and two behind, to take on the powerful Tongans.
Center Huw Jones notably gives way to Chris Harris and winger Darcy Graham to Kyle Steyn, which -- coincidence? -- had scored four tries against Tonga during their last victorious confrontation (60-14) in November 2021.
The Pacific selection has since been strengthened, thanks to a change in international eligibility rules, by established players, such as former All Blacks Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa, former Wallabies second row Adam Coleman and Stade center Toulouse Pita Ahki.
“We are more competitive and organized today,” said coach Toutai Kefu, who led the same team as the one swept by Ireland (59-16) for its first match.
“We didn’t show our best face last week,” he admitted. “We want to correct the situation and show what we are really capable of.”
Tongan captain Ben Tameifuna knows that he will have to be particularly wary of his former Racing 92 teammate Finn Russell and his “little magic tricks”.
The two men usually play the video game “Call of Duty” together online, but the Scottish fly-half, who turns 31 on Saturday, “hasn’t connected for a long time,” joked the massive Bordeaux prop -Bègles before fighting another type of battle on Sunday.