Tonga coach's cheeky dig at All Blacks
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: It’s about time New Zealand Rugby Union gives back to the Pacific Island rugby, according to Tonga coach Toutai Kefu.
New Zealand Rugby announced that Tongs and Fiji will play a double-header at Edin Park on August 31, along with a clash between Manu Samoa and the New Zealand Heartland XV.
The event billed as the ‘Pasifika Challenge II: The Road to Japan’, will see Fiji take on Tonga while Samoa will face the Heartland XV in back-to-back matches in Auckland in preparation for this year’s World Cup in Japan, which kicks-off three weeks later.
According to the New Zealand Herald, when asked if he was pleased to see NZ Rugby give something back to the islands, Kefu replied with a cheeky sledge.
“I think so, since half their team are all islanders,” Kefu said.
“Look I think it’s a great concept. It’s an afternoon game, which is family friendly. We’ve just got to build up some interest and hopefully, we fill the stadium out.”
Tonga will face the All Blacks in Hamilton a week later as a warm-up match for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Meanwhile, the coach also revealed that Tonga would be more than happy to have sacked Wallabies star Israel Folau in their World Cup 2023 squad.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Kefu has spoken to the Folau camp about the possibility of trying to get him qualified for the 2023 World Cup in France.
Despite already represented Australia, Folau could play for another country if he sits out international rugby for three years and then participate in an Olympic sevens qualifying tournament.
“We’d love to have him … the next World Cup he’d be available for us hopefully.” Kefu told the Herald.
“It’s a long time away, so we’ll let the dust settle a bit after his most recent issues. We don’t even know if he’s going to play again. He hasn’t indicated where he is going, so we’ll wait until the dust settles and then look at those options.”
The younger Folau, John, was set to be named in Tonga’s World Cup squad within the next week.
The plan is for him to feature at the Pacific Nations Cup, which begins next month, with Tonga facing Samoa, Japan and Canada.
Kefu said he hadn’t seen a whole lot of John Folau in action but was eager to get him some game time in a bid to get him involved for a maiden Rugby World Cup.
“He’s definitely on our radar and we’ve already spoken to him,” Kefu said. “I’ve actually never seen him play but I’ve got a playing history of him. We’re going to look at him and even may take him to the PNC because we’ve got some holes in our squad, especially out wide in the backs. There’s a good chance he will be part of that squad.
“You look at what he has done; he’s played in the NRL for a couple of years and he’s been on the fringe of Super Rugby for a couple of years. He definitely qualifies because he’s got a Tongan passport.
“If he’s played in those competitions before he’s certainly good enough to have a trial for us and then we can see whether he is good enough to be part of that Rugby World Cup squad.”
Sources: New Zealand Herald & Sydney Morning Herald
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