Tonga boss Kristian Woolf questions ruck speed difference following defeat to England in test series opener

Ben Olawumi
Kristian Woolf Tonga Alamy

Tonga coach Kristian Woolf in a press conference - Alamy

Tonga head coach Kristian Woolf was quick to admit that England deserved to win the test series opener, but was unhappy with elements of referee Liam Moore’s performance.

Woolf – in charge of Mate Ma’a Tonga since 2014 – saw his side go down 22-18 at the Totally Wicked Stadium, where he spent three years as St Helens chief and won the Super League title in each of those seasons.

On his return, he saw Tonga beaten by two second half Tom Johnstone tries having gone in level at 12-12 at the break. The Catalans Dragons ace crossed for a brace five years after his last international cap, rendering Tolutau Koula’s late four-pointer a consolation.

Tonga boss Kristian Woolf discontented by ruck speed difference following defeat to England

Speaking in his post-match press conference, the 48-year-old coach said: “England deserved to win. Shaun Wane did a great job, they were well prepared, they played really well and any of the tries that were scored against us had nothing to do with the ruck.

“There are things that we can clean up, so I don’t want to come across like I’m whinging there at all, Liam Moore is the best referee in the country, I’ve said that for a number of years.

“He’s a very good and very fair referee, but the ruck was ridiculous tonight. It’s got to be fair in there as well. England are playing the ball at 3.25 seconds, we’re playing it at 4.35 seconds in the second half, that’s not a fair ruck.

“Guys being able to come in when they’re not involved in the tackle and flop in late… I get that we want to let things go a little bit in a test match, and we all want to see that, but it’s got to be fair in the ruck.

“We’ve got to be allowed to play footy, that’s what people turn up to watch.”

At times in the contest at the Totally Wicked Stadium, Tonga captain Addin Fonua-Blake could be seen speaking to referee Moore, with discussions also ongoing come the final hooter.

The prop, who plies his trade over in the NRL with the New Zealand Warriors, made no secret of those conversations as he took up a position next to boss Woolf in the press conference.

He added: ” I feel like they came into the game with a game plan to slow us down, our run is our threat. I went to the ref and said, ‘it feels like you’re calling us off a lot quicker than what you’re calling them off.’

“It definitely showed, they were in our face a lot. Some of them, they did win, but some of them it felt a bit uneven or unfair.

“We only lost the game by four points and I think that we lost the game ourselves. I don’t feel like they beat us, I feel like we handed them the game.

“We’ll clean up some areas that we need to tidy up, and then hopefully next week will be a different result.”

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