27 Mar 2017

Sport: Tonga expects Teufaiva to host July rugby tests

1:08 pm on 27 March 2017

The Tonga Rugby Union expects Teufaiva National Stadium will finally be ready to host international rugby in July.

The 'Ikale Tahi have not played on home soil since 2009 and a scheduled home test against Wales in June has been moved to New Zealand because the field was deemed unfit for play.

Representatives from World Rugby and Turf Management New Zealand visited Nuku'alofa last week to assess the playing field.

The Tongan team training at Nuku'alofa's Teufaiva stadium

The Tongan team training at Teufaiva Stadium in 2015. Photo: Tonga Rugby Union

Tonga Rugby CEO Fe'ao Vunipola said the governing body has given them the go ahead to begin preparations for hosting Samoa and Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup in July, pending a final sign-off.

"They were all surprised when we all turned up to Teufaiva and there used to be a poverty part of the field, particular the infield, but the whole field now is green - it's all green," he said.

"The grass has grown, it's so healthy, because we had been having rain for the last few weeks and even the the turf management consultant from New Zealand was surprised by how quick the grass had grown, so there's no major work to be done."

"They will be mowing it, fertilising it and fixing little patches wherever they feel they need to but overall there's just no need for a huge improvement to be done, like they anticipated before," Vunipola said.

Local church using the Teufaiva Stadium which is in need of renovations to host rugby test and Pac Games. Jan 2017

Local church using Teufaiva Stadium in January 2017. Photo: Breakthrough Church Tonga

Teufaiva National Stadium is being refurbished for Tonga's hosting of the 2019 Pacific Games but had faced numerous delays, while the Games Organising Committee and the Government have clashed on multiple occasions.

Work at the Teufaiva site has since begun and the Papua New Guinea government has committed over US$15 million towards the project.

Despite the frustration of the 'Ikale Tahi being deprived a home venue for two full Rugby World Cup cycles, Vunipola was keen to look forward and said it was an "awesome feeling" for the Tongan rugby community.

"I don't want to point fingers at people but I think it's just a matter of prioritisation and I think for us our priority was always to bring a game to here and to qualify for 2019 World Cup," he said.

"Which by playing the two important matches here gives us more chance of winning it this year because that's the only way we can qualify for 2019 is to win the Pacific Nations Cup this year."

"People have priorities, the government have the people of Tonga as their priority but now we are just grateful that they are lending us a big hand to help us out because rugby union, as you know, is the Tongan national game - has been and will always."

The Tonga rugby team celebrates their win over Italy

Tonga celebrate beating Italy on their 2016 November tour. Photo: Photosport

Fea'o Vunipola said upgrades to other facilities at Teufaiva will also be carried out in the coming weeks.

"With regard to the grandstand upgrading work will be done, according to our deputy prime minister, will be completed by the end of April," he said.

"Priority is the playing area which is now given the go ahead. The grandstand work, changing rooms and stuff, is, I think, straightforward.

"It only involves the replacement of...plumbing, fittings and stuff and then doing some decoration work to the whole grandstand.

"But overall, I think, we are all happy and relieved after seven or eight years for our 'Ikale Tahi playing in exile they are all looking forward to come back and the people of Tonga can't wait to welcome them back."

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