4:58am, 21 August 2021
Tonga lock Steve Mafi is hoping head coach Toutai Kefu will be able to join the Pacific Island nation’s European tour in November as he recovers from the violent home break in that left him needing surgery in a Brisbane hospital last week.
Kefu’s wife remains in hospital with a serious wound to her arm but the former Australian World Cup winner has been released along with his son and daughter who were also injured in the machete and knife attack by four teenage robbers who now face various charges, including attempted murder. Kefu has revealed the impact of the horrific incident saying: “You know at times, there’s outbursts of crying. I think the first step for us is just getting back to the house and then we take it day-by-day. The kids seem to be OK, but they still need to be monitored probably moving forward. It’s a traumatic event so it’s going to be a slow process.”
Mafi, the 33-cap experienced London Irish lock, knows that Kefu may opt to stay with his family given the traumatic effect of the attempted robbery and like the rest of the Tonga community around the world has sent messages of support to his head coach. Tonga will play Scotland, England, Uruguay and Romania on their Europe tour which starts on October 30 with the added complication that the first match is outside the agreed international release period which covers the first three weeks of November.
Documentary: Tonga | Road to Japan
With international travel still being dictated by COVID-19 quarantine rules, Tonga, like Samoa, look certain to have to rely on European based players for the majority of their squad to take part in the Autumn tests. Mafi told RugbyPass: “Hopefully Toutai can make the tour but it is a decision for him and his priority is the family. We wish him and his family all the best and if he comes through and we see him in November then we will love that.
“If he has to put his family first then that is only right. It is sad what has happened to him and his family. The Tongan community is strong and he has earned the respect of a lot of people at home and around the world and we all saw the messages of encouragement and prayers towards him and the family was massive. We are Tongans and we stick together regardless and are all getting behind our coach and encouraging him.”
Tonga has boosted its playing pool thanks to the rule which allow players to switch countries if they play in an Olympic qualifying sevens events and this has now made Wasps former All Black Malakai Fekitoa available along with Wallabies forward Lopeti Timani, former Australian sevens representative Afusipa Taumoepeau and ex-All Blacks Sevens player Tima Fainga’anuku. There have also been two significant signings by Gallagher Premiership clubs that mean two more players are in the Kefu’s selection mix.
Toutai Kefu has been speaking to the media in Australia following Monday’s vicious knife attack on his family.https://t.co/ui08t29YsV
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 20, 2021
Mafi, who could not take part in the two World Cup qualifying matches in July against Samoa that were staged in New Zealand, believes the new additions to the squad, headed by the powerful mid-field influence of Fekitoa, offer Tonga real hope if they can reach the 2023 Cup in France. Having lost both matches to Samoa, Tonga will have to beat the winners of the Asia championship at some point next year and their reward would be to join the daunting Pool B in France that includes reigning champions South Africa, Ireland and Scotland along with a team from the Europe qualifying competition.
Mafi added: “Malakai will definitely boost our back line and the other boys who have also qualified after sacrificing their time to go to the sevens tournament will also make an impact. With the COVID problem it meant boys couldn’t go back for the games with Samoa but it allowed new players to get a chance. For the Autumn tests we have players in the UK and Europe and it will be about if clubs are willing to release players.
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
“The No1 priority is to qualify for the World Cup and we would go into a really tough pool and it would be massive for our little nation to get the team to France and perform well.”
With London Irish having lost flanker Blair Cowan who has moved to Japan there is a hole to fill in the tackling statistics and the team had a series of close defeats that could have been turned into wins with fewer errors. Mafi believes lessons have been learnt and the target is a top four spot in the Premiership this season that once again will operate without the threat of relegation as the league will move to 14 teams the following season.
He said: “There were a lot of close calls last season and the young boys have matured and we have prepped up well for this new season. There were some wrong decisions that cost us the wins in those close games and you just have to learn and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Not having relegation isn’t a factor at all and wasn’t last season. We fell short of where we wanted to be and the message is to just keep fighting to the end and hopefully we will make the top four. Losing Blair is massive for the whole club because he has so much respect on and off the pitch and it’s about who is going to step up and make those 34 tackles a game.
“We have a lot of young guys with plenty of potential coming through and we are strong in the back row area.”
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