Tongan rugby players are renowned for their bone-rattling defence and tackle-busting attacking game, but it is their singing ability that is winning the hearts of the Japanese people ahead of the World Cup.
- The Tongan national squad delighted passengers on a flight to Sapporo by breaking into song
- The players had earlier became fan favourites after being warmly welcomed by locals at their training base in Kochi
- The Pacific Island nation faces one of the World Cup favourites in its opening match, England
The Tongan national team drew applause from fellow passengers when they burst into song on their flight to the Japanese city of Sapporo on Tuesday in the lead-up to their opening match against England on Sunday.
Their singing, captured on video and posted to the World Cup’s official Twitter account, was also a hit with social media followers, attracting almost 69,000 views and close to 2,000 likes a day after the footage was posted.
“Inflight entertainment on another level” was how World Rugby described the Tongan squad’s singing, while Twitter users were gushing in their praise.
The Tongan players were also filmed singing hymns together at a squad meeting, as they prepare to face the highly fancied English team in their Pool C encounter.
Tonga has endeared itself to the host nation since arriving in Japan earlier this month.
Coached by Wallabies great and 1999 World Cup-winning number eight Toutai Kefu, the squad had based itself in Kochi for a pre-tournament camp, with the players thriving in their new surrounds.
They also took part in a number of Japanese cultural activities, such as performing a yosakoi dance.
“The people of Kochi have been really welcoming,” Tongan forward Daniel Faleafa said.
“It feels like a second home to us.”
Tonga has been grouped in arguably the toughest pool at the World Cup, with England, France, Argentina and the United States its rivals for the opportunity to qualify for the quarter-finals.
The build-up to the tournament hit a hurdle when the ‘Ikale Tahi — as Tonga’s national rugby union team is known — were thrashed 92-7 by two-time defending champions New Zealand in Hamilton earlier this month.
Kefu has also faced the obstacle of trying to bring a squad together when a number of his players are based with clubs in Europe.
Tonga has had mixed results in its seven previous appearances at the World Cup, having never advanced to the knockout stages.
But Tonga did cause one of the upsets of the 2011 edition in New Zealand when it beat eventual runner-up France 19-14 in the pool stages.
The World Cup gets underway on Friday evening, when Japan meets Russia in Tokyo.