12 Jun 2017

Sport: Tonga, Samoa expecting big support, possible windfall

2:14 pm on 12 June 2017

Tonga and Samoa are confident they will have plenty of support in the stands for Friday's 'Pasifika Challenge' rugby double header in Auckland.

The 'Ikale Tahi will take on Wales in the first match, after the game was moved from Nuku'alofa, before the All Blacks host Manu Samoa in their only test before facing the British and Irish Lions.

Samoa and Fiji played to a sell-out crowd at Eden Park during the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, while the local Tongan community came out in force to support the 'Ikale Tahi during that event.

Tonga rugby fans

Tonga rugby fans in New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Lauren Baker

Tongan coach Toutai Kefu was confident both teams would be well represented in the stands.

"As we know there's huge populations - Samoan and Tongan - in Auckland and I'm sure they will come along and have a look (at) two tier one nations playing," he said.

"I don't think it's been done before - two tier one nations (playing) back to back, double header at Eden Park so very exciting and something that the fans shouldn't miss."

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Samoa rugby fans. Photo: Photosport

The Samoa and Tonga Rugby Unions will also receive a welcome financial boost if tickets sales surpass a certain level at the 46,000 capacity Eden Park.

"That's our agreement: if the attendance reached a certain threshold there will be a distribution of funds to us and Samoa," explained Tonga Rugby Union CEO Fe'ao Vunipola.

"Hopefully we will exceed that threshold and we can take advantage of the opportunity being afforded to us by World Ruby and New Zealand Rugby Union.

"We are grateful to all the opportunities that we have, not only in the Auckland game but also here in Tonga. World Rugby is doing all they can to help us generate some much needed funds to help in running our union."

Scrum training at 'Ikale Tahi practice in Spain.

Tongan players are unlikely to be paid. Photo: Tonga Rugby Union

In recent years the TRU has not paid an allowance to 'Ikale Tahi players on national duty and Fe'ao Vunipola admitted that was unlikely to change for the forseeable future.

"Unfortunately we have been reliant on government for players allowance and players salary and that is the case for now," he said.

"But if we have extra funds generated from these matches then obviously they're number one on the list but I don't want to promise them a lot because that hasn't been the case recently when I started so I'd rather keep carrying my cards to my chest and pay the players when it comes, that's the plan."

Vunipola said World Rugby was meeting the cost of players within the region, including those in New Zealand and Australia, but Tonga covered the travel costs of Northern Hemisphere-based players through its high performance funding.