Great Britain are vowing to bounce back from the embarrassment of an opening defeat by a Tongan Invitational XIII as they prepare for back-to-back Tests against New Zealand.
Back in action after a 12-year absence, the Lions are licking their wounds after being given a rude awakening on their return to the international scene in Hamilton.
The tourists went down 14-6 to the talented Pacific Islanders and also lost prop Luke Thompson and centre Oliver Gildart to rib and shoulder injuries which are expected to end their tour.
Prop Tom Burgess said: “We’ve got to look at where we can improve. We matched them on effort, we’ve just got to tidy a few things up and execute a little bit better.
“Tonga played well and fair play to them. It’s good to see them up there competing with the top tier teams but we need to have a look this week and see where we can get better.
“We’ve got quite a few players coming in who are new to the team. We didn’t have a mid-season Test so it has been 12 months since we’ve been together.
“We need to have a good week’s training and look forward to New Zealand.”
The Kiwis, too, will go into Saturday’s first Test in Auckland on the back of a sobering defeat, Michael Maguire’s men proving no match for Australia in a 26-4 defeat in Woollongong.
“They’re a good football team as well but it’s more about ourselves,” said stand-off Gareth Widdop.
“We need to hold the ball and we need a better kicking game. If we can do that and build some pressure on them, it will make the game a lot easier.
“Tonga are a good football team, we knew that, but we probably didn’t make it easy for ourselves.
“I thought the effort was really good but when you are giving up so much ball it’s difficult, we just didn’t have enough time to wind it back.
“Obviously it’s a disappointing result but we’ll move on and get back in training this week, work hard and look to produce a better performance next week.”
Tonga were forced into making a late change, drafting in teenage full-back Tesi Niu in place of an injured Ata Hingano, but he went on to play a starring role in the victory while the surprise presence of Leeds centre Konrad Hurrell added yet more physicality to their team.
Britain lost in-form prop Luke Thompson after only 12 minutes and, in a torrid opening, were grateful for handling errors by Andrew Fifita and David Fusitu’a in promising attacking positions as they struggled to get a foothold in the game.
They looked to have withstood the pressure when centre Michael Jennings opened the scoring after 29 minutes and Sio Siua Taukeiaho converted his try.
Hull-bound second rower Manu Ma’u then lost control of the ball as he went for the line and Britain would have been delighted to turn around only 6-0 adrift after being on the back foot for most of a torrid first half.
However, Tonga struck again when they kept the ball alive after the hooter had sounded in stunning fashion with 16 pairs of hands involved before substitute Sione Katoa won the race to touch down Kotoni Staggs’s kick for a second try. Taukeiaho’s second conversion made it 12-0 and he put three scores between the teams with a penalty after 63 minutes when Niu was taken out off the ball by Alex Walmsley.
Tonga were understandably unable to maintain their relentless pressure of the first half but Britain lacked the creativity to turn their increased possession into points.
They suffered a blow when Oliver Gildart, the only specialist centre in the squad, went off with a shoulder injury but John Bateman forced his way over for a try in the 70th minute and Gareth Widdop’s conversion cut the deficit to eight points.
But it was too little, too late for Wayne Bennett’s men, who must now pick themselves up for two Tests against New Zealand.
Bennett will bring in utility back Jake Connor in place of Gildart while Jack Hughes could profit from the absence of Thompson, having been the other player to be left out of his 19-man squad in Hamilton.