By RNZ.co.nz and is republished with permission
Four New Zealand and Australian rugby internationals have put their hands up to represent Tonga at next month’s Final Olympic Sevens Repechage tournament.
The Tonga Rugby Union announced last month it would only select players based in Europe for the qualifying tournament in Monaco, because of travel difficulties caused by Covid-19.
Tonga men’s sevens coach Tevita Tu’ifua said an initial list of 43 names had been trimmed to 23, which includes two ex All Blacks and a former Wallaby.
“We have got a few (high profile) names pop up and we still need to rank our priorities list and then we work from there to finalise our selection,” he said.
“…there’s a lot of things behind the scenes that we all collaborate together on the management side of things and even coaching and playing.”
Players can switch their international allegiance by playing in an Olympic qualifying event, provided they have a passport for the second country and have completed a stand down period of three years.
Tu’ifua said he has been working with ‘Ikale Tahi coach Toutai Kefu to determine which players they can to cap via the sevens programme.
“I still take on board his input for people we need to consider on selection to make them available for Tonga, the guys who need to be capped.
“That’s a priority for us as well for our programme, (players) who need to be available for ‘Ikale Tahi post Monaco.”
As previously reported by RNZ Pacific, former All Black Charles Piutau will not feature in Monaco as the Olympic qualifier clashes with the English Premiership semi finals.
Another two former New Zealand internationals had also indicated their desire to wear red but are likely to be involved in the French Top 14 playoffs on the same weekend.
Tu’ifua said a 15-man training squad will be named shortly, from which the final 12 players will be selected.
“We’re at the stage of cutting down the squad to finalising probably in the next few days or within a week,” he said.
Trying for Tokyo
Tonga has been handed a tough draw in Monaco, with Samoa and Ireland – who are both core teams on the Men’s World Series – also in their pool, alongside Zimbabwe and Mexico.
10 men’s and 12 women’s team will contest the repechage event in Monaco on 19-20 June, where one men’s and two women’s teams will seal the final spots in the main draw.
Tevita Tu’ifua said Tonga will give it their best shot.
“We still need to go in with the mindset of doing well,” he said.
“The result will look after itself if we are able to put a good plan that fits the profile of the players and making sure they prepare well for this tournament.”
The Auckland-based Tu’ifua will not travel to the repechage tournament but said he has already arranged for another coach and team manager who will support the team in Monaco.
He said Tonga’s New Zealand based sevens players are instead focusing on the 15-a-side game, with loose forward Solomone Funaki called into the Highlanders Super Rugby squad this week as injury cover.
While the core squad will miss the Olympic Repechage, Tu’ifua said some of them are in contention to play for the ‘Ikale Tahi during the July window.
“That’s always been part of my goals for the sevens programme since day one is just building that bridge as a pathway to our main fifteen-a-side ‘Ikale Tahi.”