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Tonga rue slow World Cup start, lose automatic 2019 slot

Tonga promised to ‘fight fire with fire’ against the All Blacks & proved true to their word on Friday.

Tonga's players perform the sipi tau prior to a Pool C match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between New Zealand and Tonga at St James' Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, northeast England, on 9 October 2015. Picture: AFP

NEWCASTLE - Tonga had promised to "fight fire with fire" against the New Zealand All Blacks and they proved true to their word on Friday, but they now face the hard grind of qualifying for the next Rugby World Cup after losing their automatic slot.

Early in the second half at Newcastle's St James' Park, Tonga pegged back the world champions to 14-6, but they failed to break through for a try while Kieran Read was sin-binned, and were finally submerged by a wave of New Zealand tries.

"I believe that was the strongest performance to date," Captain Nili Latu told reporters after the 47-9 defeat.

"I could not ask any more from my players and the commitment they showed."

The result means the Pacific Islanders have won just one of their four matches in Pool C, a disappointment for a team that recorded the biggest shock of the 2011 World Cup by beating France 19-14.

The 17-10 defeat by Georgia in their opening game was especially painful, setting up the East Europeans to take third place in the group and with it the automatic qualifying slot for the Japan World Cup in 2019.

"I thought there has been a huge improvement from the way we played against Georgia to the way we played against the Tier One nations," said coach Mana Otai, citing fitness and coping with the pressure of facing top teams as the areas in need of attention.

"We showed glimpses of how good we can be."

Visit the Eyewitness News special Rugby World Cup 2015 portal.