England boss Shaun Wane admitted he wanted to clinch a series whitewash over Tonga “so badly” following their 26-4 victory at the AMT Headingley.

The hosts were keen to secure a clean sweep from the start of the tie and crossed the whitewash twice in the first 26 minutes thanks to Ben Currie and Matty Ashton.

Both teams finished the half with a temporary man less after Matty Lees and Keon Koloamatangi were sent to the sin bin for a scuffle which caused a mass brawl.

England took no prisoners in the second half and cruised into an unassailable lead as Elliott Whitehead marked his final cap with a try before Harry Newman crossed for his first international score, but England’s defence was finally breached when Eliesa Katoa grabbed a consolation for the visitors.

Wane was proud of his players throughout the series and thinks they deserve full credit for a 3-0 success.

He said: “Unbelievable approach what we’ve done and how we’ve done it.

“I’ve nothing but praise for the players, the main mention is to them. I so badly wanted to win this game, no matter what. Two-nil didn’t matter to me, so to win in this fashion is great. I was desperate.

“You look at how the players have behaved and I think they’ve been outstanding and they’ll go from strength to strength.

“We stuck to our task well and they can play, athletic, big, they tested us, but the desire to defend and the detail was absolutely outstanding.

“We’ve got a really good team spirit, it’s very much like a club team. We spend time with each other and there is no club cliques and that’s been the most satisfying thing for me. We look like a club team and that’s why we’ve got the success today.”

Wane still has nightmares about England’s World Cup semi-final defeat last year but insists his side will now get stronger and did not think they would limit Tonga to just five tries in three games.

He added: “It will always haunt me, it doesn’t make it better, but how we played that game will always be there.

“I never thought we could manage that (five tries in three games). You look at their talent, that was a tough ask and you look at the physical side, big athletes, so to do that, the credit the players deserve is untrue.

“I’d love to do another three weeks. I’m back to walking my dogs next week and I’d love to do another three weeks. We’ve had a great time.

“When you score tries like that, it beggars belief when you hear stupid comments about us not being entertaining.”

Tonga boss Kristian Woolf handed full credit to England following the defeat but was proud of his team.

He said: “England were exceptionally good. Sometimes you have to sit back and applaud the tries they came up with, good tries and some good plays, they did a good job of scrambling.

“We didn’t deserve the scoreline if you look at the effort, I was proud.

“We showed up with a great attitude and I thought we showed that throughout the game and when the score looked like it could have blown out we hung in, we kept defending and trying to find points.

“We were disappointed to go down 3-0, there’s no doubt about that, and we’re certainly disappointed in the scoreline, but I’m not disappointed with the way our group have come over here. They have put their footy first and I’m very proud of them as a group of players.”

Tom Johnstone’s second-half double sealed a rugged 22-18 win for England in the first of their three-match autumn Test series against Tonga in St Helens.

The Catalans Dragons winger had been almost anonymous in the first half but pounced on a pair of chances – the first a sublime floated pass from captain Jack Welsby – as the hosts pulled clear in the second period.

An impressive debut from Hull KR stand-off Mikey Lewis, who made then scored one before the break, also contributed to an encouraging afternoon for Shaun Wane’s men who were still forced to live on their nerves in the final stages.

A late try from Tolutau Koula threatened to set up a grandstand finish but England held on for the win in what was their first serious test since last year’s heartbreaking World Cup semi-final exit.

Tonga, boasting a side bristling with NRL talent, had themselves been looking to recover from a disappointing World Cup and deservedly reached the half-time hooter all-square at 12-12.

But it was the hosts who had made the first move and it took Lewis just eight minutes of his international bow to make an impact as his superb break set up a move that swung left through Victor Radley for Toby King to trot over on the left.

Harry Smith kicked England six clear but Tonga fought back after capitalising on a penalty for a ball steal, Saints’ Will Hopoate providing the decisive pass in a move that sent Wests Tigers’ Starford To’a in on the right edge.

Tonga went in front in the 25th minute when the second of their England-based starters, Huddersfield’s Tui Lolohea, delivered a neat kick for Tyson Frizell, who started his international career with Wales over a decade ago, to dart onto.

Isaiya Katoa’s first successful conversion lifted Tonga, backed by a boisterous band of fans behind the posts, into a four-point lead, before superb solo effort from Lewis, who wriggled through an imposing Tongan rearguard, levelled once again.

Harry Smith curled over the conversion to nudge England in front and Katoa responded with a penalty in front of the posts just before the half-time hooter.

Tonga were clearly growing in confidence, evidenced by the lively Keaon Koloamatangi, who produced an audacious offload to find space for Will Penisini, then bulled inches from the England where he was stopped by a timely Harry Smith tackle.

As the action warmed up, Johnstone’s hopes of a breakthrough were brutally stopped by Hopoate, then the action swung to the other end where To’a was ushered out of play as the visitors threatened again.

Welsby’s brilliance thrust England back in front after 55 minutes when he floated a perfectly-judged pass above the heads of three Tongan players to gift Johnstone the simplest of chances to get off the mark.

And a swift second from the Catalans man, when he pounced to intercept after a fumble by Penisini on the Tongan 40, left the fleet-footed Catalans star to race in under the posts from where’s Smith’s simplest conversion extended England’s lead to 22-12.

Tom Burgess was adjudged to have been held up over the line as England looked to finish the contest off but Tonga set up an anxious last two minutes when Tolutau Koula went over on the left, as if to serve as a timely reminder of two further bruising challenges to come.

After delivering a stinging response to his critics by leading Wigan to Grand Final glory last week, Harry Smith is relishing the prospect of winning his second England cap in the first match of a three-test series against Tonga on Sunday.

The 23-year-old Wigan stand-off played an increasingly pivotal role in his club’s surge to the Super League title, culminating in kicking six points in their 10-2 win over Catalans at Old Trafford last weekend in the Betfred Grand Final.

It marked a glittering end to the season for Smith, who missed out on the prestigious Harry Sunderland man-of-the-match trophy by a single vote, and was all the more impressive given early season concerns over his inconsistency with the boot.

Ahead of the clash at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium, Smith told the PA news agency: “I’m very happy with how the season went in terms of leadership and game management, and winning the confidence of my team-mates and (Wigan head coach) Matt Peet.

“I got a bit of stick due to my kicking, and some of it was probably a bit unfair. I thought my overall performance, creating stuff for the team, was really good.

“I never really over-thought it. I knew the work I was putting in would pay off, and I just had to keep looking forward and not backwards. I feel like I’ve really managed to make those improvements in the last few months.”

Smith made his only previous England appearance in a one-sided 64-0 thrashing of France earlier this year and knows his side face a different proposition against a Tonga squad stacked with talent from Australia’s NRL.

In the absence through suspension of regular captain George Williams, Smith is set to form a new half-back partnership with Hull KR’s Mikey Lewis, one of two potential debutants in coach Shaun Wane’s 19-man matchday squad alongside Leeds’ Harry Newman.

For more experienced members of the squad, the series represents the chance to finally shrug off any lingering disappointment from last year’s dramatic golden point World Cup semi-final defeat to Samoa at the Emirates Stadium.

Smith added: “The Samoa game has not been mentioned much, because there’s obviously quite a lot of players in the squad who were not involved, but there are definitely some who still have that bitter feeling.

“It’s more about how we can move on with the aim of getting to a World Cup final in the future. It’s why we take up the sport, to play in the biggest games, and the difference between this and the France game is obvious.

“You can feel it in training, the intensity is much bigger than before the France game, because not only are you surrounded with really good players, but you know how good those are who you are coming up against.”

St Helens full-back Jack Welsby has been handed the honour of becoming England’s youngest ever captain on his home ground and will come face-to-face with domestic team-mate Will Hopoate in the opposite position.

Saints team-mate Tommy Makinson is another survivor from the Samoa nightmare and he believes Welsby’s ascent to the captaincy, in place of the now-retired Sam Tomkins, has been an inevitability for some time.

“I’m really proud first and foremost,” said Makinson. “It’s been coming and in his performances over the past two or three years, we’ve all seen what Jack can do.

“He’s a back-to-back Man of Steel candidate and all the accolades have come his way. He’s not really very vocal, but he’s honest, hard-working and more than anything he’s a good bloke, and that’s why everyone respects him.”

Jack Welsby is determined to banish the memory of last year’s Rugby League World Cup semi-final defeat to Samoa when he leads out England for the first of three Test matches against Tonga in St Helens on Sunday.

The 22-year-old said he was “surprised and humbled” to be handed the captaincy in the absence of George Williams, who failed in his appeal against a two-match ban he picked up in Warrington’s play-off defeat earlier this month.

It continues a steep career trajectory for the Saints star, who made his international debut in the crushing opening World Cup win over the Samoans, before suffering with his team-mates as they slid to their agonising loss to the same team in the last four.

“I’m very excited and humbled,” said Welsby. “When Waney (England coach Shaun Wane) came up and told me I was surprised, especially with some of the senior blokes we’ve got in that dressing room.

“To be leading them out on Sunday afternoon is going to be a big thing for myself and my family. Nothing really trumps being England captain, no matter where it is, but there is also the added bonus of it being in St Helens.”

With the exception of a routine 64-0 win over France in April, Sunday represents Welsby and England’s first opportunity to right the wrongs against top-level opposition, whose squad includes two current Saints team-mates in Will Hopoate and Konrad Hurrell.

Welsby told to the PA news agency: “If we’re completely honest with ourselves, maybe there was a bit of complacency in the semi-final because we’d been putting some big scores on teams and we thought we were better than we were.

“It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had on a rugby field, and if you don’t learn lessons from days like that, you never will. I’m pretty sure after what happened last year, you’re not going to see the same mistakes against Tonga.”

Despite a stellar personal season which culminated in him being shortlisted for the Man of Steel award, Welsby endured another painful blow when his hopes of helping Saints to a fifth straight Grand Final triumph ended abruptly against Catalans Dragons in France.

Instead, he admits he forced himself to watch through his fingers as Wigan wrested the title against the French club, confirming that the domestic dominance he had experienced since becoming a first-team regular at the Totally Wicked Stadium in 2019 was at an end.

Welsby grimaced: “I did watch it, reluctantly. It was a tough watch, but I had friends and England team-mates involved in the match. Obviously we were very disappointed how it ended with Saints, but Wigan deserved it on the whole this year.

“I’m glad the England call-up meant my season wouldn’t end in France. Anywhere you get to pull on an England shirt it makes you immensely proud, and obviously being in St Helens in front of hometown fans will make it even more special.”

It is a mark of the importance placed by Wane in the series – which continues with subsequent matches at Leeds and Huddersfield – that five players currently based in Australia’s NRL have been flown over for the games.

Tom Burgess, John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, Victor Radley and Dom Young could all feature in a line-up balanced between experience and youth, as Wane looks to begin the long build towards a prospective re-arranged 2026 World Cup in the Southern Hemisphere.

However, Wane must work without Williams for at least the first two games of the three-match series, as well as a number of high-profile injury withdrawals, including Welsby’s Saints team-mate Jonny Lomax and Wigan centre Jake Wardle.

“When you see the NRL players over here and the quality in the Tonga squad, you realise it’s time to get started,” added Welsby. “After everything that’s happened, I just can’t wait to pull the England shirt on again and rip right in.”

England head coach Shaun Wane has urged his side to learn the lessons from last year’s World Cup heartbreak as they prepare to kick off their three-match international series against Tonga in St Helens on Sunday.

Wane has named an initial 24-man squad for the series, which will mark their first serious test since their agonising golden-point semi-final defeat to Samoa at the Emirates Stadium last November, following a facile 64-0 win over France in June.

“We fell short at the World Cup and we need to improve,” said Wane, whose squad is a blend of youth and experience, and includes Wigan captain Liam Farrell, making his first appearance since 2021 after missing the World Cup with a knee injury.

“Tonga are very talented and their players play in an unbelievable competition so it is a massive challenge for us.

“Samoa was a massive test for us last year and we fell short, but we learned a lot of lessons and we have made progress. I’m very happy with the squad that I’ve got and I’m really excited to see how the young players perform in such a pressured environment.”

Farrell is one of four players from the newly-crowned Super League champions to be included in the squad along with team-mates Tyler Dupree, Toby King and Harry Smith.

England captain George Williams has also been named in the squad despite awaiting the results of a disciplinary tribunal which could rule him out for all or part of the action.

Catalans winger Tom Johnstone and St Helens full-back Jack Welsby – both Man of Steel nominees – are included, and there is also a place for Leigh forward Robbie Mulhern after an impressive campaign with the Challenge Cup winners.

Wane added: “I’m really happy with the mixture of senior players and young kids, and I know they’re all proud to represent their country.

“All of the players included have impressed me throughout their respective Super League and NRL campaigns and are worthy of representing their country in this historic series.”

Nevertheless Wane’s options were hampered by a series of injury-enforced withdrawals, including Saints duo Jonny Lomax and Alex Walmsley and Wigan centre Jake Wardle, fresh from winning the Harry Sunderland Trophy for man of the match on Saturday.

Dismissing questions over the international futures of the likes of Lomax, who also missed out on the World Cup, Wane continued: “Without sounding nasty, I’ve forgotten about them. The only people I’m thinking about are in the 24-man squad.”

England squad to face Tonga: Matty Ashton (Warrington Wolves), John Bateman (Wests Tigers), Tom Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Daryl Clark, Ben Currie (both Warrington Wolves), Tyler Dupree, Liam Farrell (both Wigan Warriors), Chris Hill (Huddersfield Giants), Tom Johnstone (Catalans Dragons), Toby King (Wigan Warriors), Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees (both St Helens), Mikey Lewis (Hull KR), Tommy Makinson (St Helens), Mike McMeeken (Catalans Dragons), Robbie Mulhern (Leigh Leopards), Harry Newman (Leeds Rhinos), Victor Radley (Sydney Roosters), Harry Smith (Wigan Warriors), Danny Walker (Warrington Wolves), Jack Welsby (St Helens), Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders), George Williams (Warrington Wolves), Dom Young (Newcastle Knights)

Wigan captain Liam Farrell has been named in the England squad for the first time since 2021 for the upcoming three-Test series against Tonga.

Farrell, who missed last year’s World Cup with a knee injury, is one of four players from the newly-crowned Super League champions to be included in England coach Shaun Wane’s 24-strong line-up.

Farrell is joined by team-mates Tyler Dupree, Toby King and Harry Smith for the series, which kicks off at the Totally Wicked Stadium on Sunday.

England captain George Williams has also been named in the squad despite awaiting the results of a disciplinary tribunal which could rule him out for all or part of the action.

Catalans winger Tom Johnstone and St Helens full-back Jack Welsby – both Man of Steel nominees – are included, and there is also place for Leigh forward Robbie Mulhern after an impressive campaign with the Challenge Cup winners.

Wane said: “I’m really pleased with the 24 players coming into camp as we look to beat Tonga in this three-game series.

“All of the players included have impressed me throughout their respective Super League and NRL campaigns and are worthy of representing their country in this historic series.”

England squad to face Tonga: Matty Ashton (Warrington Wolves), John Bateman (Wests Tigers), Tom Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Daryl Clark, Ben Currie (both Warrington Wolves), Tyler Dupree, Liam Farrell (both Wigan Warriors), Chris Hill (Huddersfield Giants), Tom Johnstone (Catalans Dragons), Toby King (Wigan Warriors), Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees (both St Helens), Mikey Lewis (Hull KR), Tommy Makinson (St Helens), Mike McMeeken (Catalans Dragons), Robbie Mulhern (Leigh Leopards), Harry Newman (Leeds Rhinos), Victor Radley (Sydney Roosters), Harry Smith (Wigan Warriors), Danny Walker (Warrington Wolves), Jack Welsby (St Helens), Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders), George Williams (Warrington Wolves), Dom Young (Newcastle Knights)

Ireland prop Finlay Bealham is determined to “make the minutes count” as he prepares for a crucial showdown with Scotland following a frustrating start to his maiden Rugby World Cup.

Australia-born Bealham made his first meaningful contribution of the competition by coming off the bench to help secure a statement 13-8 victory over defending champions South Africa in round three.

He had been left out of the matchday 23 for his country’s opener against Romania and was then forced off by a head knock just 10 minutes into a second-half cameo the following week against Tonga.

Bealham, who showed his quality with some fine performances in this year’s Six Nations Grand Slam triumph, has won most of his 34 Test caps as a replacement and is understudy to first-choice tighthead Tadhg Furlong.

But the 31-year-old is ready and raring to go when called upon as Andy Farrell’s men attempt to avoid a shock early exit at the hands of the Scots.

“From a mindset point of view, when I’m on the bench, I don’t care how many minutes I play,” said Bealham.

“It’s ‘make the minutes count’. I try my best to do that.

“Personally it was a frustrating start to the campaign but some of that stuff was out of my control.

“When I got my chance, I just tried to come on and make a positive impact. It was incredible to get that experience.

“I’m looking forward to the Scotland game.

“Obviously there’s no team been named yet and it’s just about focusing on what I can control, fixing up things from the South Africa game and then bringing my game on top of that.”

Three successive Pool B wins have put the world’s top-ranked nation on the cusp of the quarter-finals.

Yet Ireland’s progression is far from assured going into Saturday evening’s pivotal Paris appointment.

Bealham turns 32 next Monday and will celebrate his birthday either preparing for a last-eight clash with France, New Zealand or Italy, or reflecting on elimination.

The Connacht player is eager to extend the “surreal” experience of playing on the world’s biggest stage and continue representing his late Irish grandmother, whom he thinks about when singing Ireland’s Call.

“I moved over originally when I was 18, 19 years of age having a dream of playing professional rugby and I moved over because the dream seemed a bit harder where I was in Australia,” said Canberra-born Bealham.

“I had that Irish heritage through my mum’s side of the family.

“I was really tight with my nana at the time. She used to ring me every day when I was in Galway and I remember one time I forgot to bring my phone to training and she ended up calling me like 70 times, it was something crazy, you wouldn’t believe it.

“I suppose to represent my nana, who I was always close with growing up, representing all them, would I have thought I’d be here a good few years later at a World Cup? It’s pretty surreal.

“Every time I get to wear the jersey, every time I sing the anthem, I always think of my family and everyone who sacrificed for me to get to where I’m at.”

Scotland romped to the bonus-point victory they required over Tonga at Stade de Nice to kick-start their World Cup campaign and keep alive their hopes of qualification for the knockout phase.

The pressure was on Gregor Townsend’s side after losing their first game to South Africa and then seeing Ireland defeat the Boks on Saturday, a scenario that left them with no margin for error and in need of big victories from their remaining fixtures.

The Scots kept their composure, however, and showed their attacking quality to get themselves a foothold in the top-heavy pool B by recording a 45-17 win over Tonga, with their seven tries all scored by different players.

Scotland signalled their intent in the second minute when Blair Kinghorn chased down his own kick-through and outpaced the Tongan defence to get there but he knocked the ball on as he tried to slam it down over the line.

They only had to wait a further three minutes to get their first try of the tournament, though, as hooker George Turner pushed over following a maul. Finn Russell converted.

Tonga halted the early Scottish flow when William Havili sent his penalty between the posts in the 10th minute, and midway through the first half the Pacific islanders managed to get themselves in front when Solomone Kata ran on to a Salesi Piutau offload and dotted down on the right. Havili converted.

With the Scots trailing 10-7 more than a quarter of the way into a must-win game, they could have lost their composure, but they soon regained control of proceedings with three tries in the closing 14 minutes of the first half.

Duhan van der Merwe got them back in front in the 26th minute when he finished off a lovely move involving Sione Tuipulotu, Russell and Kinghorn by touching down on the left. Russell was wide with the conversion attempt.

Kyle Steyn – who scored a record four tries in the Scots’ last meeting with Tonga almost two years ago – then raced in on the right to score on the half hour following a lovely pass from Russell, who subsequently saw his kick come back off the post.

There was a flashpoint in the 33rd minute when Tonga back Afusipa Taumoepeau was sin-binned for a high challenge on Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie, who was forced off with a head injury and replaced by Matt Fagerson.

The Scots – anticipating that it might be upgraded to a red card on review – took advantage of their temporary numerical advantage when Rory Darge finished impressively in the last action of the half, with Russell on point with the conversion.

Shortly after Taumoepeau was surprisingly allowed to return to the field in the third minute of the second half, Tonga got back in the game when prop Ben Tameifuna bulldozed his way over on the left, and Havili added the extras.

With the deficit down to just seven points, Scotland reasserted themselves when substitute George Horne touched down in the 53rd minute after brilliant play by Van der Merwe to set him up. Russell converted.

Kinghorn and replacement Darcy Graham put the seal on a much-needed victory with late tries – both converted by Russell – either side of a yellow card for Tonga’s Vaea Fifita.

British and Irish Lions pair Rory Sutherland and Chris Harris have been restored to the Scotland XV for Sunday’s World Cup pool B match against Tonga.

Head coach Gregor Townsend has made four changes in total to his starting line-up for the must-win encounter in Nice, with Scott Cummings and Kyle Steyn also added.

Prop Sutherland will make only his second start for the national team in 19 months after slipping down the pecking order since his involvement with the Lions two years ago. The 31-year-old takes the place of Pierre Schoeman, who drops to the bench.

Similarly, centre Harris, who also toured South Africa with the Lions in 2021, will make only his second international start of 2023 after losing his place to Huw Jones at the start of the year. Jones drops to the bench.

Wing Steyn is back in the team in place of Darcy Graham after declaring he was “absolutely gutted” to be left out of the 23 for the South Africa match.

The other change to the starting line-up sees lock Scott Cummings step in for Grant Gilchrist, who drops out of the matchday squad. Scrum-half George Horne and hooker Ewan Ashman are both on the bench after missing the 18-3 defeat against the Springboks with concussion.

Blair Kinghorn is relishing his elevated status as Scotland’s first-choice World Cup full-back after spending most of his international career to date trying to emerge from the shadows of greats Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg.

The 26-year-old Edinburgh back has accumulated 47 caps since his debut in 2018, largely due to his versatility in being able to operate at number 15, number 10 and even on the wing.

In trying to establish himself at full-back, Kinghorn found Hogg – Scotland’s record try-scorer – blocking his way to a starting place, while his bid to become an international stand-off always seemed unlikely for as long as the talismanic Russell was still at the top of his game.

Hogg’s retirement earlier this summer, however, opened the door for Kinghorn to set about making the 15 jersey his own.

After starting the two summer Tests against France last month, it came as little surprise when he got the nod over the less experienced full-back Ollie Smith to start the World Cup opener against South Africa.

He is expected to retain his place for Sunday’s match against Tonga in Nice as the Scots bid to bounce back from their 18-3 defeat by the Springboks.

“I feel like there’s been a different focus this pre-season, coming into the World Cup feeling like I can grab a starting jersey,” he said.

“Being able to start at 15 is something I don’t want to let go of and something I don’t take lightly.

“I’m really excited about it. Everyone always wants to be starting for their country and now that I’ve had the opportunity to start the last game, and a couple of the warm-up games to start at 15, it’s been really exciting for me.

“There’s still a lot of competition in our squad for that jersey, everyone is pushing each other, so I’ve just got to keep training well and playing well, if selected, and hopefully I can hang on to it for a while longer.”

For much of 2022, amid tension between Gregor Townsend and Russell, it looked like Kinghorn was being primed as a Scotland fly-half.

However, with Russell and the head coach having patched up their differences last November, Kinghorn’s hopes of becoming number 10 for the national team were effectively dashed.

“I think so,” he said when asked if his focus was now fully on the full-back position. “I feel comfortable back there. I’ve got the ability to cover stand-off if needed but I feel like full-back is my best suited position at the moment, and I feel like that’s where I can offer the team my strengths.”

Kinghorn knows he has big boots to fill in succeeding Hogg, one of Scotland’s greatest ever players, but he is intent on playing the position his own way.

“Obviously Hoggy was a world-class player so over the last five years since I’ve been in camp with him I’ve been picking up little bits of knowledge here and there from him, but I’m looking to put my own game into that 15 jersey,” he said.

“A lot of players play in different styles and I think me and Hoggy have contrasting styles in certain ways, but I’ll be looking to put my own stamp on the position.”

Kinghorn is enjoying his second World Cup after going to Japan in 2019 as a 22-year-old. The back was a fringe man at the last showpiece, making just two appearances and only one as a starter. He feels he has developed significantly as a player and a person since then.

“I was inexperienced and quite young when I came to my first World Cup,” said Kinghorn. “You grow and mature into these situations and you realise how hard it is to stay at the top of your game for an entire pre-season and World Cup.

“You’ve got to take your preparation and your recovery seriously. I think when you’re younger you’re a bit naive to how much work it actually takes so I feel like I’m a more mature player who has definitely dealt with a bit more life experience within rugby and I can handle situations a bit better.”

Kyle Steyn has warned Scotland they must be ready to match Tonga’s physicality and passion if they are to secure the bonus-point win they require in the Rugby World Cup this weekend.

The Scots go into their second match at the tournament in Nice on Sunday knowing they have no margin for error remaining after losing their opening game to South Africa.

Gregor Townsend’s side will be hot favourites to get the result they need, but wing Steyn insisted it would be a mistake to underestimate the patriotic Tongans, who are ranked 15th in the world and looking to bounce back from a 59-16 defeat by Ireland.

“It will be a physical test, especially at a World Cup,” he said. “Tonga has a really passionate culture, they’re big on family and they really play for each other.


“We know they’re going to be out to represent their country and their families, and that’s going to bring a lot of physicality. It’s about dealing with that and matching it.”

Having been idle last weekend, Scotland have had plenty time to reflect and regroup since their demoralising 18-3 defeat by South Africa.

Glasgow back Steyn views the Tonga match as a big opportunity for the Scots to get their World Cup up and running and restore the sense of optimism that had been building among their supporters prior to the setback against the Springboks.

“We pride ourselves on the connection we’ve managed to build with the fans and the people back home,” said the 29-year-old. “We didn’t give our best showing against South Africa so it’s important we go out there and right some of those wrongs.

“Every game is must-win for us now. We can’t look too far ahead but this weekend is big because it is the one that gives us the chance to get back on track and get the momentum rolling.”

Scotland, who have reported no fresh injuries since the South Africa game, are on course to have a full-strength squad available for Sunday’s match, with hooker Ewan Ashman and scrum-half George Horne back in contention after concussion and back-rower Luke Crosbie having overcome a rib problem.

Horne declared that, after stewing over the Springboks defeat, the players are eager to get back into action as they bid to revive their hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals.

“Coming off the back of a disappointing loss last week, everyone just wants to get back out there,” said the Glasgow scrum-half. “We’ve had the week to lick our wounds and everyone’s raring to get back out there and get involved in another World Cup game.”

Scotland have been staying near Nice and training at Stade Nicois’ rugby ground – less than two miles from Stade de Nice – since arriving in France at the start of September.

After their opening match took place in Marseille, they are looking forward to playing in their base city for the first time this weekend.

“We’ve got our base here in Nice and everyone’s at home now,” said Horne. “The stadium looks amazing, the atmosphere has been unbelievable in the games that have been played there already so everyone’s buzzing to get out there and play.”

Johnny Sexton smashed Ireland’s individual points record as his side edged closer to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a crushing 59-16 bonus-point victory over Tonga in Nantes.

The influential fly-half surpassed Ronan O’Gara’s all-time tally of 1,083 in style with the fourth of his side’s eight tries on a balmy evening at Stade de la Beaujoire.

Captain Sexton also kicked a penalty and four conversions en route to moving on to a career total of 1,090 before being withdrawn from a bruising Pool B encounter at half-time ahead of next week’s crucial clash with South Africa.

Tries from Tadhg Beirne, Caelan Doris and Mack Hansen paved the way to victory, with Bundee Aki’s double and second-half scores from James Lowe and Rob Herring capping Sexton’s landmark moment.

Vaea Fifita crossed just before half-time to give Tonga hope in the aftermath of Peter O’Mahony’s yellow card, while William Havili contributed three penalties and a conversion.

But the world’s top-ranked nation comfortably maintained their 100 per cent start to the tournament and emerged relatively unscathed moving towards pivotal Paris appointments with the Springboks and Scotland.

Despite the looming threat of the reigning world champions, head coach Andy Farrell named an extremely strong starting XV showing just four personnel changes from last weekend’s thumping 12-try triumph over Romania.

His side, unfamiliar in white shirts, were once again heavily backed on the terraces and met Tonga’s Sipi Tau by taking a collective step forwards.

Sexton slotted an early penalty to increase the volume, but Havili landed a long-range reply to level before Ireland were frustrated to have an Andrew Porter try disallowed for a knock-on by Hansen.

The disappointment proved to be fleeting as Farrell’s men remained on the front foot, culminating in Beirne collecting Doris’ pass and touching down under the posts for his third score of the tournament.

Havili landed another audacious penalty from close to halfway to cut Tonga’s deficit, but their hopes of a first win over the Six Nations champions were swiftly reduced by costly indiscipline.

Lowe was clattered in his own 22 by opposing wing Solomone Kata, gifting Ireland a penalty at the other end of the field from which Doris powered over.

Hansen – one of four men recalled by Farrell – then superbly danced through the opposition defence wide on the right to stretch the scoreboard, leading to Sexton equalling O’Gara’s previous national record.

Sexton overtook his former fly-half rival in memorable fashion to secure the bonus point.

The evergreen 38-year-old rolled back the years by effortlessly slipping through Tonga’s defence to touch down and then celebrated jubilantly with fans seated behind the posts, before regaining his composure to add a simple conversion.

Ireland were threatening to blitz the stunned underdogs.

Yet Tonga roared back and, during a series of penalties close to the Irish line, O’Mahony was sin-binned before former All Black Fifita shrugged off an early injury issue to power over.

Ireland changed their entire front row at the break, while wrapping Sexton in cotton wool.

Yet replacement tighthead prop Finlay Bealham departed for a head injury assessment after Havili kicked his third penalty of the evening, requiring the swift return of Tahdg Furlong, before substitute hooker Herring had a try chalked off on review.

Lowe eventually claimed Ireland’s fifth and official man-on-the-match Aki then propelled himself to the top of the tournament’s embryonic try-scoring charts with a quick-fire brace, both converted by Sexton’s replacement Ross Byrne.

Ireland were relatively untroubled in the second period and Herring sealed another statement win – a 15th in succession overall – ahead of two critical fixtures in the French capital.

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray says it is “great” to have his father back in good health and in France to cheer him on at his fourth – and probably final – Rugby World Cup.

The 34-year-old’s dad, Gerry, suffered serious injuries earlier this year after colliding with a truck while cycling in County Limerick.

Murray emerged as a doubt for his country’s Guinness Six Nations match with France following the incident in February but continued to play amid difficult circumstances.


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Friends and family of the Munster star, including Gerry, will be in Nantes on Saturday evening to watch Ireland take on Tonga.

“They’re hugely excited, it’s probably the last one (World Cup) as well so they’re definitely making the most of it,” said Murray, who has been selected to start at Stade de la Beaujoire.

“Friends are starting to come over this weekend, a few people have follow-your-team tickets and things like that.

“My dad is on his way over on the ferry as we speak. He’s in good health and he’s back golfing and doing everything he loves. It’s great that he’s able to do it.”

Murray came off the bench in Ireland’s opening Pool B match – a resounding 82-8 win over Romania in Bordeaux.

He has been preferred to Jamison Gibson-Park this weekend and will partner fellow veteran Johnny Sexton at a fourth World Cup following their appearances in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

The British and Irish Lion is excited by what Andy Farrell’s side can potentially achieve during the coming weeks.

“I am really lucky to have made four,” he said. “I’ve seen in every cycle that people fall out through injury or through favour or form.

“It’s just a grateful one (feeling), I suppose. I’m really lucky to be part of a squad, especially this one.

“They’ve all been great craic and they have all been talented squads, but this one ticks a lot of those boxes, the camaraderie we have.

“I hope that shows from the inside out, we’re a really tight group and obviously with the potential we have.

“(I’m) just excited to be part of the environment and excited about where we can go.”

Ireland continue their Rugby World Cup campaign on Saturday evening by taking on Tonga in Nantes.

Andy Farrell’s men are seeking a second successive Pool B win ahead of pivotal Paris appointments with South Africa and Scotland after beginning the competition with a thumping 82-8 success over Romania.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main talking points.

Strong selection


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With the formidable Springboks looming large, there were suggestions head coach Farrell may make sweeping changes to his starting line-up. But the Englishman has resisted temptation and gone almost full strength. Only sidelined hooker Dan Sheehan and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park are missing from arguably his preferred XV. Farrell made clear he wishes to prioritise the immediate challenge rather than become preoccupied by potential injury setbacks and the forthcoming threat of the reigning world champions. Some fans and pundits disagree with that logic. Only time will tell if it is the correct call.

Sexton seeking more history

Johnny Sexton returned with a bang in Bordeaux. His first competitive outing in almost six months following injury and suspension included two tries as part of a 24-point haul. The impressive return propelled him above Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s leading World Cup points scorer (102) on the day he became his country’s oldest international. Further history beckons for the 38-year-old in Nantes. He needs just 10 more points to surpass O’Gara as Ireland’s outright record points scorer. Captain Sexton, who will retire after the tournament, is not contemplating personal glory. “It will be a very special moment individually but no-one else will really care,” he said.

Avoiding deja vu

Ireland require little reminder of the risks of underestimating weaker opposition at the World Cup. With influential fly-half Sexton rested, they were stunned by hosts Japan under Joe Schmidt in 2019, which ultimately led to a quarter-final exit at the hands of New Zealand. Farrell was assistant to Schmidt back then. But he insists the upset in Shizuoka has not influenced his strong selection. Ireland only need to look back to Thursday evening, when a second-string France side survived a major scare against Uruguay, for further evidence of the dangers posed by emerging nations.

Tough start for Tonga

Tonga have been drawn in the tournament’s trickiest pool, with the world’s top-ranked nation up first. Toutai Kefu’s side, who had a weekend off in round one, are well aware of their underdog status. “We’re not delusional to the challenge we face,” said assistant coach Tyler Bleyendaal. Yet the ranks of the Pacific islanders have been significantly bolstered thanks to a change of international eligibility rules. Former All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa, a World Cup winner in 2015, Charles Piutau, Augustine Pulu and Vaea Fifita are among their starting XV. Bleyendaal anticipates a physical encounter. “We’re here to really fire some shots,” said the former Munster player.

The heat is on

Ireland will welcome a significant reduction in temperature following the scorching conditions endured at Stade de Bordeaux. Farrell’s players defied heat of 36 degrees Celsius to run in 12 tries against Romania, while it was again uncomfortably warm on Friday afternoon when they trained at Stade de la Beaujoire. The forecast for Saturday’s 9pm kick-off local time is a more manageable 22 degrees, with light winds, clear skies and a low chance of precipitation following possible thundery showers earlier in the day. That said, humidity is expected to be high and will add to the intensity as Ireland once again bid to deliver under pressure.

Johnny Sexton believes none of his team-mates will care if he surpasses Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s record points holder during Saturday’s clash with Tonga.

Captain Sexton is on the cusp of making history for the second successive weekend after becoming his country’s oldest international and leading World Cup points scorer in last weekend’s 82-8 thrashing of Romania.

The 38-year-old returned from an absence of almost six months to score two tries as part of an impressive 24-point haul in Bordeaux.

While he will start again in Nantes after Andy Farrell opted to go with a strong XV featuring just four personnel changes, his performance will not be influenced by chasing further personal glory.

“It’s not something that comes into my head too often,” said Sexton, who is nine points behind O’Gara’s tally of 1,083.

“Obviously I was unaware how close I was after the game last week until I came into the press conference and so now I’m getting reminded again.

“Look, it will be a very special moment individually but no one else will really care. I won’t be making decisions off the back of it.

“I want to win the game, I want to progress further in the competition and that is the only thing going through my head at the moment.”

Ireland take on the team ranked 15th in the world at Stade de la Beaujoire ahead of pivotal Paris appointments against South Africa and Scotland.

Head coach Farrell has resisted temptation for serious rotation before the showdown with the Springboks as he wishes to build momentum and not underestimate Tonga.

Hooker Ronan Kelleher, world player of the year Josh van der Flier, scrum-half Conor Murray and wing Mack Hansen have been restored.

Farrell admits “you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t” in regard to possibly making wholesale changes.

“A bit of continuity from last week, it’s a different game, a different challenge,” the Englishman said of the Pool B encounter.

“Respecting the opposition is absolutely at the forefront of our minds, respecting the competition but more so respecting ourselves.

“That side that played last week hadn’t played together before, we get to roll on to this one and you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t (make changes).

“The only thing that I care about is winning this weekend because the points that are on offer is exactly the same as what’s coming down the line.”

The 48-year-old also dismissed suggestions his selection was influenced by the 2019 World Cup, when Ireland suffered a shock pool-stage loss to hosts Japan after resting key players.

“Everyone keeps talking about four years ago but we’re a different team, different circumstances, it’s a different competition,” said Farrell, who was assistant to Joe Schmidt then.

“We move on. It’s never been talked about at all.”

Veteran fly-half Sexton, who will retire following the tournament, had no interest in potentially being protected with the reigning world champions in mind.

“I don’t have any say in selection,” he said.

“I just rock up to training and do my best. Obviously I want to play, I mean when you only have a certain amount of games left of course you want to play.

“But it’s what is right for the team, what is right for different individuals and that was probably all taken into consideration. But no, I didn’t have to do much talking (with Farrell).”

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