By ILIESA TORA
Nuku’alofa – July 15, 2021: 4.30pm (Nuku’alofa Times): Reality has to be taken into consideration.
I for one do not believe that the ‘Ikale Tahi will qualify for the Rugby World Cup from the current round of qualifiers that is being played out in New Zealand.
Simply because I do not believe we had prepared well enough and off course we do not have the players to see us through.
Time was not on our side. And almost everything else for that matter.
We were lost against Manu Samoa last Saturday.
That was a follow on effect from the humiliation by the All Blacks a weekend earlier.
Really I do not blame the players. They did their best.
Or the coaches. They tried what they could.
But reality it that we just do not have it this time around.
I was smiling when the Manu Samoa team agreed to play the Maori All Blacks in two matches.
We were handed the unfortunate task of facing the All Blacks straight up in our first Test match of 2021 – after a long absence in 2020.
The Samoans would have learned alot in the two matches – eventhough there were beaten both times.
The experience they gained and the valuable lessons they learned helped them put together that sterling performance against us.
They now have one foot in the race for a spot at the Rugby World Cup.
Our Ikale Tahi side should use the Test against the Samoans this Saturday as a learning curve again — and prepare for the match up against the Cook Islands next week and the repecharge extended round.
It is going to be a long haul again.
Unfortunately we do not have any choice.
Captain Sonatane Takulua said it well after the All Blacks Test — alot of people do not know what the team went through and are going through.
Captain courageous and prop Ben Taumeifuna paid for their own quarantine expenses so they could pay for the national side.
That is alot of dedication and sacrifice.
Some of our other top players were not available too.
That added extra burden to Toutai Kefu and his coaching staff.
So, I am not expecting us to win against the Samoans on Saturday. If we do that will be a bonus.
Just getting the teams out there to play and play well would be a bonus.
On another hand, I think it is high time now that Peter and his team at TRU get plans done and get World Rugby to implement them.
For starters get the local development really moving.
Set up a competition in all the islands – Tongatapu, Vava’u, Ha’apai and ‘Eua. I mean a competition that is worth of the word. Properly organised.
Have age-groups from mini rugby — 9 year olds upwards. Get the schools involved.
Ensure these competitions are managed professionally and that the system is set to help ensure progressive development throughout.
Bring back the ‘Aoniu’ competition that used to do so well in the 80’s and 90’s – where island players would then match up against each other and players from New Zealand and Australia.
TRU should now focus on aiding that with proper rugby refereeing development.
Follow what Tonga Football is doing — taking development to schools, to communities.
Put in place a sevens rugby format that covers the off-seasons from XVs rugby.
I will throw in my hat and help out with setting up a sevens competition that can be nation-wide and funded by financiers like BSP and ANZ, or Pacific Timber Hardware or the shipping companies. All these businesses make so much money from Tonga and if given a sustainable proposal can help fund such a competition.
Peter Harding is the expert now in charge at the TRU. He should now get World Rugby to do what Tonga needs in order to properly develop as a rugby nation and then compete at the world stage as a competitive team.
At the same time the TRU should stand strong with other Pacific nations and tell World Rugby get real and do some real work for island rugby for once.
Stop making use of island rugby to foster their own motives.
Ease off the player regulations and let players who can not continue playing for their adopted countries to return home and play for their national teams.
Not wait four to five years until they have lost some of their firepower.
The focus from now on – as COVID has now shown us – is to get Local.
Get it done here then we can get it done outside.
Go the Ikale Tahi!
We will get to the World Cup – let us just learn from this weekend and get better from then on!