Nuku’alofa – September 2, 2021: 19,45am (Nuku’alofa Times/RNZ Pacific): The ‘Ikale Tahi might have to go without Head Coach Toutai Kefu for the end of the year Europe tour.
Toutai and his family continue to recover from urgent surgeries they had to undergo following injuries they suffered in a violent home invasion in Brisbane last month.
And there is a likelihood some new players and also management team will be part of the tour, as COVID-19 continues to spoil plans around the globe.
Tonga Rugby Union CEO Peter Harding told RNZ Pacific that Kefu remained involved in everything they are doing but was likely to remain at home in Brisbane.
“As it stands at the moment he won’t be going (to the Northern Hemisphere) because of what happened. Obviously the family have a lot of healing I suppose – they have a lot of things to work through before things are back to normal,” he said.
“At this stage he’s involved in every decision that’s being made but whether he actually goes is more of less up in the air at the moment. There will be a ticket for him until the day he leaves but that’s going to depend on his wife and his family and what happens there.”
Harding also revealed to RNZ Pacific that there might be an all new management crew in place with the latest Covid-19 outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand throwing a further curveball into proceedings.
“I’m in the process of putting a scratch team of staff together, which will involve some people who have been involved recently but also some new people that will be involved just for this tour,” Harding explained.
“The people who don’t go that won’t reflect on them for July and going forward but with the way Covid is in the Southern Hemisphere at the moment – border restrictions, MIQ, quarantine for Australians (and New Zealanders) – it makes it very difficult for people to make decisions to be away and potentially be away for Christmas.”
Tonga is scheduled to kick off Northern tour against Scotland at Murrayfield on 30 November, a test which falls outside of the international window requiring clubs to release their players.
But that test is now in doubt, Harding claimed, with talks the New Zealand NPC could be extended into November, after an outbreak of the Delta variant in the community put the country into lockdown.
“When you’ve got Covid running rampant things change almost by the day so I can’t give you any solid answers there,” he said.
“We’re still planning to fulfil the fixtures but if we don’t have any players then we’re going to struggle aren’t we?”
Tonga is also scheduled to face England at Twickenham as well the French Barbarians and Romania.
Twenty three (23) new players were capped against the All Blacks, Samoa and the Cook Islands in July, with the vast majority of those players based in New Zealand.
But fresh Covid-19 outbreaks across Australia and Aotearoa could quash Tonga’s ability to select players from the rugby strongholds.
Harding said they’re now expecting players from the Northern Hemisphere will form the bulk of their touring squad.
“The players that played very well in July, always the plan was that those players would be in the mix because of their quality but the way it’s looking now it will be primarily a Northern Hemisphere squad that goes forward.”
One player who is expected to feature is former All Black Malaka Fekitoa.
The midfielder became eligible for the ‘Ikale Tahi after representing Tonga at an Olympic Sevens qualifying tournament in June and has already made his mark on the national set-up.
“Malakai is not only a good player but he’s an exceptional person off the field and he has been a help to people as we’ve been getting ready as well,” Harding explained.
“He’s going to be involved playing but he’s already involved in a leadership role as well, so I think he’s going to be a great addition going forward,” he said.
Tonga will use the tour to prepare for their Rugby World Cup qualifier against the Asia Zone winner next year.