The Tonga men’s rugby team will begin assembling in Tauranga today as they begin preparations to face the All Blacks and Manu Samoa in their first matches since the 2019 World Cup.

Half the squad are new to test rugby, with a number of front-line players unavailable for selection because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

‘Ikale Tahi coach Toutai Kefu admitted finalising a list of 30 players was a challenge.

“Purely because of the Covid restrictions and the restrictions of guys playing overseas so, in that sense, really really difficult but on the positive side you get to explore, investigate new players, so that was interesting.”

22 of the 30-man squad are already based in New Zealand, with four plying their trade in France, two from Australia and one each from Japan and Italy.

Most of the European based players are already part-way through 14 days in quarantine in Auckland and are scheduled to be released a few days before the Tonga face the All Blacks next weekend.

Kefu said the European based players selected were already coming back to New Zealand but more than 20 players turned down the chance to play against New Zealand and Samoa.

“Some of them were actually finishing up in France so we’re quite lucky that they were all coming home,” he said.

“The other guys who were involved with ‘Ikale Tahi before and are in France have decided to stay there, purely because of just the restrictions in terms of travelling, the quarantine, so they decided to actually stay back in France and we totally respect that and we understand that, so we have to manage that.”

Veteran prop Ben Tameifuna is en route to Aotearoa after Bordeaux were beaten by Toulouse yesterday in the French Top 14 semi finals.

He will miss next weekend’s test against the All Blacks while he completes his stint in quarantine, and Kefu said it could be a very inexperienced team that runs out at Mount Smart Stadium.

“We want to have the ability to throw a few punches but…there’s not many times you get to play the All Blacks so this is a massive opportunity for guys,” he said.

“Just looking at our squad I dare say those who will take the field will mainly be guys who have never played for the ‘Ikale Tahi before, so it’s a good opportunity for us to get a look at them under some pressure and in the game situations.”

SOURCE – RADIO NZ

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