‘England should give back to Pacific islands’ says Scott Wisemantel

England face Tonga in their World Cup opener on Sunday amid a call from within their own camp to play a Test in the Pacific nation to aid a region that has enriched to the sport.

Powerhouse: England have benefited from the likes of winger Fiji-born winger Joe Cokanasiga, above, joining their ranks.(Picture: Adam Davy/PA)
Powerhouse: England have benefited from the likes of winger Fiji-born winger Joe Cokanasiga, above, joining their ranks.(Picture: Adam Davy/PA)

Attack coach Scott Wisemantel believes that Twickenham should not view a tour match against the impoverished Islanders – whose population numbers a mere 108,000 – as beneath them.

For the past two years Wisemantel has overseen the Pacific Combine – a programme that identifies talent in Tonga, Fiji and Samoa with the ambition of securing their emerging stars professional contracts.

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England have never played a Test in Tonga or Samoa and have only appeared in Fiji on two occasions.

“There’s no reason you couldn’t go there. Other teams have been there – Italy did it a few years ago,” said Wisemantel.

“I don’t think that just because it’s England you can think you’re above everyone else. There’s no reason you can’t go there, it’s just what you tack on along the way.

“If you tack on a game against Australia or New Zealand or whoever, then you make it viable as a tour. But it’s a long way to go.

“Tonga do need that competition. They need to play consistently against the best. The problem is the revenue. Whether it can be done financially, that’s the biggest issue.

“In regard to that, potentially a solution is that in the November window, the Pacific nations get to play one of the big dogs at one of the big stadiums and they get a piece of the pie.”

Wisemantel, who is expected to leave his post after the World Cup, insists his World Rugby-funded work in Fiji where the combine is held is undertaken in challenging circumstances.

“The facilities there are sparse. You’ve got hit shells, balls, cones, all the testing equipment to do their S&C testing, but outside that it’s bibs, maybe a few agility poles,” he said.

“That’s it. It’s very raw. But from a personal point of view it’s deeply rewarding. You see a guy come in at the start of the week from a village and then at the end of the week he’s off to play professional rugby. It’s brilliant.”

England launch their World Cup as overwhelming favourites to make a triumphant start to Japan 2019, but Wisemantel’s experience has demonstrated what to expect at the Sapporo Dome.

“They’re great rugby players because they’re built for it! Historically it’s called the Kingdom of Tonga for a reason – they’ve never been defeated in war,” he said.

“They’ve gone to other islands and smashed them up, but they’ve never been smashed up and they’re very proud of that.

“You speak to a Tongan and you talk about the country and you say ‘so you’re from Tonga’.

“Occasionally they’ll say ‘I’m from the Kingdom of Tonga’ and there’s a reason for it. They’re quite fierce in that regard.”

England’s low key camp in Miyazaki ends on Wednesday when they will head to Sapporo with Jones naming his team the following day.

Only wing Jack Nowell and prop Mako Vunipola are definitively unavailable for selection by Eddie Jones.

Wales have been rocked on the eve of the competition with the news assistant coach Rob Howley has been sent home from the World Cup in Japan for a potential breach of World Rugby’s regulation on betting.

The Welsh Rugby Union said that Howley had “returned to Wales to assist with an investigation in relation to a potential breach of World Rugby regulation 6, specifically betting on rugby union”.

The 48-year-old former Wales captain has been part of Warren Gatland’s coaching team since 2008.

It is understood that he has already arrived back in Britain after leaving Wales’ current World Cup squad base in the southern Japanese city of Kitakyushu.

Former Wales fly-half Stephen Jones, who was due to succeed Howley as attack specialist after the tournament, will join the squad later this week.

Wales’ opening World Cup game is against Georgia in six days’ time and in a statement, the WRU said: “The WRU can confirm that Rob Howley has returned to Wales to assist with an investigation in relation to a potential breach of World Rugby regulation 6, specifically betting on rugby union.

“The decision was taken to act immediately in light of recent information passed to the WRU.”