Tongan stars set to clash with familiar Irish faces

Tongan stars set to clash with familiar Irish faces

Three Tonga players are poised to face their former Irish clubmates in Saturday's Rugby World Cup clash

When Tonga line up for their Rugby World Cup opener against Ireland on Saturday, three of their players are poised to come up against players with whom they have starred on EPCR duty in the past. 

Full-back Charles Piutau played a total of 11 European Rugby Champions Cup games for Ulster Rugby in 2016-17 and 2017-18, when hooker Rob Herring and lock Iain Henderson, selected on the replacements’ bench at the weekend, were regulars in the Ulster pack. 

Piutau, who also played alongside Ireland centre Stuart McCloskey at Ulster, enjoyed a stellar two years with the Irish province, scoring four tries in those 11 games, including a double against Exeter Chiefs in 2017.  

Also in 2017-18, centre Pita Ahki made his EPCR bow, playing two games, both against CA Brive, for Connacht Rugby in the Challenge Cup. Amongst his team-mates then were Ireland centre Bundee Aki and prop Finlay Bealham, who will wear the No.12 and 18 jerseys respectively on Saturday.   

Last season, Malakai Fekitoa featured for Munster Rugby as a replacement in their 20-16 loss at Stade Toulousain in Round 4 of EPCR’s leading competition and in the centre in their 50-35 defeat at Cell C Sharks in the Round of 16 alongside five of the Ireland 23 selected for the Nantes clash. 

They are scrum-halves Conor Murray and Craig Casey, lock Tadhg Beirne, flanker Peter O’Mahony and prop David Kilcoyne, of whom Casey and Kilcoyne will start on the bench at the weekend. 

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