Key Points:

Tonga 85 Korea 3

One of the biggest sports shows in Auckland over the weekend had a $4 entrance fee which you plonked in a bucket - and the match officials were more famous than most of the players.

Australian referee Matt Goddard and diminutive touch judge George Ayoub are superstars compared to the Korean and Tongan rugby players who fought out a World Cup qualifier at Waitemata Park in the Saturday afternoon heat.


Just two of the Tongans, Hurricane Nili Latu and Highlander Hale T-Pole, were Super 14-rated. Tonga relied on domestic players, and there is no such thing as a well-known Korean player.

"There was a lot of flak about the selections in Tonga," said Latu. "I'm really happy for the boys. The media in Tonga were very negative and this is a really good way of shutting them up."

Tonga, as expected, obliterated Korea. An amped-up Tongan lineup will play in Pool A of this year's World Cup, alongside England, South Africa, Samoa and the United States.

Saturday's result confirms that a potential World Cup classic is in store. Neither Tonga nor Samoa will trouble the engravers but their Pacific rivalry means they can leave an indelible mark. The bruises may also take a time to fade.

Waitemata will always be famous as the home of All Black legend Michael Jones, the Samoan coach who starred in the inaugural World Cup. On Saturday, Waitemata staged a Jones-town massacre.

But one-sided match apart, it was a nice chance to witness eclectic rugby outside the professional lanes. You couldn't get much further from the grand stadiums of Europe than Waitemata Park, with a tiny stand on one side and a grass bank on the other.

The day started with piped music, which sounded like a cross between heavy metal and a pneumatic drill.

That gave way to such diverse tones as country music's achy breaky heart and Frankie Valli's falsetto. The gleaming gold Webb Ellis Trophy looked on.

A Korean official offered sushi to his mates. Flag-waving Koreans and their scratch orchestra fired up. The Tongan players did their war dance. At the end, a beaten Korean team formed a perfect line and bowed in unison to the grandstand.

It was a tremendously tough assignment for the Koreans, who are mounting a long-term campaign to reach the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand by trying to a develop a team that can beat Asian champs Japan rather than trying to beat the likes of Tonga in a repechage. So Saturday's game had a development theme.

Koreans play rugby as a serious hobby, and this team of mainly students came from sub-zero temperatures to face 26C heat.

"We've only had 10 days together. We came here thinking we could beat Tonga, so this is a bit of a shock," said the Korean lock Young-Nam Kim, a 30-year-old Samsung administrator who plays rugby for the company.

Kim's interpreter is Ian Lim, a man in his mid-50s, who has been in New Zealand for 10 years and runs a cafe in Hamilton. I met him in the stands.

You can tell from the crowd size that rugby fever does not grip Korea. But Lim is different. As a teenager, he attended one of two Seoul private schools in which rugby is big news.

"I love rugby because it is a man's game," he says "but Korea loves soccer and American sports - rugby is down the bottom. We have strong forwards but we have problems like the lineout and the man-to-man tackling."

How true. Once the Tongans ran, the Korean defence ran out of answers although they were plucky.

The big shock was the way the Korean scrum mangled Tonga in the first half. Latu later claimed the new scrum laws, which bring the front rows closer together, helped Korea.

In the second half, Latu instructed his front-rowers to stand further back before engaging, and Tongan blushes were saved.

"I think these new laws might benefit smaller props," said Latu, the Japan-bound Bay of Plenty openside.

In and around these battles, the eccentricities of this World Cup fixture kept playing out.

Korean wing Byung-Kwan Noh went down injured, only to be piggy-backed around the sideline by a reserve. A match official raced across, gesticulating madly that a stretcher must be used. The injured man was eased to the ground, and later found to have a broken leg.

Maybe the halftime 38-0 score had taken its toll on the thinking but a Korean scampered to the dressing room for a kicking tee early in the second half before their only points were landed to wild applause.

Strains of old could be heard in the grandstand, where a Waitemata club official suggested to Koreans that his club would welcome players from their country. "We'd look after them," he said, echoing distant rugby codes.

The final whistle halted the increasing pace of the Tongan onslaught. Tonga, under their Australian coach Adam Leach, were headed for a Saturday night fundraiser "at a K Rd nightclub - $10 at the door". They will be tested, mounting a respectable World Cup campaign.

"If you get picked to go, you're one of the lucky ones," said Latu.

Korea return home today, dreaming of 2011.

"Japan have just beaten us 54-0 but I think we can beat them one day," said a smiling Ian Lim.

"But against Tonga ... we'll beat them at golf."