Tonga’s massive loosehead is so big even by front row standards that he is nicknames ‘Tiny’. Tonga’huia is the ideal modern prop, being devastating in both the scrum and the loose, and there can be few props in world rugby with his speed.
And so it is not surprising that he is a highly prolific try scorer. In his 129 appearances for Northampton Saints, he has crossed the line 17 times. There can be no doubt that his best effort was last season against Saracens, where he ran in from FORTY-FIVE metres out. Watch the pace, the strength and the cheeky dummy, as he streaks past the Saracens cover defence.
But while the New Zealand-educated islander can mix it up with the pretty boys out wide, there is no stronger man among the big boys. Along with tighthead Brian Mujati, and captain Dylan Hartley, Tonga’uiha’s legendary strength and technique have been the platform upon which The Saints have built their success in recent years.
Tonga’uiha has led his club from the front this season as they became the first team to swagger unbeaten to the Heineken Cup final. Indeed he was undoubtedly the most important man in the first half of that final as Northampton trampled the Leinster scrum and led the favourites by sixteen points at half-time. His individual efforts throughout the 2010-11 season were rewarded handsomely as he was the sole nominee from the English Premiership for the 2011 European Player of the year award.
Critics will argue that the 29 year old fades after sixty minutes, and his performance in the European final would testify to that. Despite this, his fans would argue that he is a big-game player, and would point not just to his first-half demolition of Leinster, but to the opening try he scored in the 2010 Anglo-Welsh Cup Final. It is performances like this that Tonga will require come the World Cup.
The mighty man will no doubt frontline his country’s efforts to go one further than 2007. There they were pitched against both of the eventual finalists, England and South Africa, and they put in two brave performances, leading England at half-time. This time they are in a similar situation, facing up against France and New Zealand, two teams who have their sights on the final. If they are to pull off a massive upset, the 29 year old will have to produce his very best rugby, and for 80 minutes this time.
Tonga’s Tonga’uiha has played for his country exactly the same number of times as Ireland’s Stephen Ireland: seven times. Unlike the Irishman who has scored four goals for the senior team, Tonga’uiha has yet to open his tally for his national team.
130kg; 20st 10lbs
Position: Loose head
Caps: Tonga 7; Pacific Islands 3
Club: Northampton Saints