Nuku’alofa – April 27, 2021: 9am (Nuku’alofa Times/RNZ): Former All Black Malaki Fekitoa is in the list of Europe based players the Tonga 7s management team are interested to rope in for the Olympic Games 7s rugby repecharge in Monaco.
This follows the TRU’s decision to only use Europe based players for the event because of the risks involved in taking local or New Zealand based players due to COVID-19.
A squad of New Zealand based players has been training under head coach Tevita Tu’ifua for the past three years, which formed the core of teams that have competed in the men’s Oceania Sevens Championship, World Sevens Series and Rugby World Cup Sevens.
Tonga Rugby Union CEO Peter Harding told Times Sport that Fekitoa is being considered.
Fekitoa had indicated he wants to play for Tonga at the next Rugby World Cup.
The 7s playoff will be his first step towards that if he is selected.
With 21 of the 24 teams already qualified for the Olympic rugby sevens competition, the remaining two women’s and one men’s spots are scheduled to be decided from June 19 to 20 at Stade Louis II.
The women’s competition will feature Argentina, Colombia, France, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Samoa and Tunisia.
The men’s tournament will involve Brazil, Chile, China, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Jamaica, Mexico, Samoa, Tonga, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Harding said the New Zealand based programme has “kept men’s sevens alive for Tonga” but with Covid-19 still prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere, they have decided to only select players who are already currently playing professionally in Europe.
“Sending a team from New Zealand would require the players having 16 two-week MIQ (quarantine) spaces available on their return from Monaco after the competition,” he said.
“These spaces are scarce and extremely hard to acquire and taking 16 places at this particular time is not the right path to take.”
Harding said the TRU considered sending a team from Tonga but, with France currently experiencing a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, it was decided not to risk bringing the virus back into the local community.
The Tongan squad to compete in the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament on 19 and 20 June will include a number of ‘Ikale Tahi internationals, with the players and management staff to be announced shortly once final arrangements are completed.
Tevita Tu’ifua, who is managing the process of selecting a European-based squad, said he supported the Tonga Rugby Union’s decision.
“This is the right course for our communities and our health. The players who have formed the core of our group will refocus their efforts on the Challenger Series and the Oceania Championship at the end of the year,” he said.
“The Oceania is a qualification for the Commonwealth Games and the Sevens Rugby World Cup, so there is everything to look forward to for 2022.”