10 May 2017

Sport: Samoa, Tonga to use 'Pasifika Challenge' as qualifying prep

11:58 am on 10 May 2017

Manu Samoa coach Alama Ieremia says next month's test against the All Blacks in Auckland is ideal preparation for crucial Rugby World Cup qualifying matches.

The teams will clash as part of a Pacific rugby double header, called the 'Pasifika Challenge', at Eden Park with Tonga playing Wales in the curtain raiser.

Manu Samoa head coach Namulauulu Alama Ieremia.

Manu Samoa head coach Namulauulu Alama Ieremia. Photo: Renee McKay/SRU

Alama Ieremia said the Auckland test was a welcome addition to their calendar.

"It's great that we've got a chance to play the All Blacks again and this is great for our build-up as well, going into the June-July internationals, which are very important World Cup qualification games for Manu Samoa," he said.

"We play Wales straight after the All Blacks in Samoa so it's great to have two tier one countries in build-up, leading to those qualification games later."

Samoa have played the All Blacks six times previously, the last being the historic test in Apia two years ago when Ieremia was Manu Samoa assistant coach.

"That was preparation going into the 2015 World Cup. That was quite an experienced side and guys were coming to the end of their careers so this time around we're rebuilding Manu Samoa," he said.

"We've had a few new players come in last year but this year we've definitely got to step it up to the mark and it's about performance and we've got to pick our best players that are available and that are playing well so we will definitely be doing that.

"Especially when you're facing the All Blacks, which we all know is number one team in the world, we need to put our best foot forward."

Chris Vui wins a lineout on test debut for Manu Samoa against France.

Lock Chris Vui was among the new faces on Manu Samoa's 2016 November tour. Photo: AFP

'Ikale Tahi expecting big Auckland support

Tonga are expecting plenty of crowd support when they play Wales as part of next month's Pacific rugby double header in Auckland.

The test was meant to be played in Nuku'alofa but was moved after concerns over the state of the pitch at Tefuaiva Stadium.

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu and assistant coach Matt O'Connor.

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu and assistant coach Matt O'Connor. Photo: Tonga Rugby Union

Head coach Toutai Kefu was confident the local Tongan population will come out to support the 'Ikale Tahi.

"I'm pretty sure it's well documented that there is more Tongans in Auckland than actual Tonga so we'll get some good support," he said.

"Those memories when we landed (in Auckland for the) 2011 World Cup and those Tongans that turned up at the airport are still fresh in my mind so I'm hoping that they will all be there."

"Most of the boys that have grew up in New Zealand have come from that Auckland area," Kefu said.

Toutai Kefu said following the Wales test, the 'Ikale Tahi will spend a week in camp in Tonga as part of their preparation for Rugby World Cup qualifying matches against Fiji and Samoa in July.