26 Nov 2018

Sport: 'Ikale Tahi excited to face All Blacks

3:11 pm on 26 November 2018

The 'Ikale Tahi believe playing the All Blacks next year will be the perfect way to round out their preparations for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Tonga will take on the world champions in a one-off Test in Hamilton on Saturday 7 September.

All Blacks v Tonga

Sam Cane attempts to breach the Tongan defence during their 2015 World Cup pool clash. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Kingdom have not beaten New Zealand in five previous tests, with four of those coming during Rugby World Cup pool stages.

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said next year's match would be a special occasion.

"That will cap off our preparation before we get to Japan so by then we should have a very good squad and would have had probably eight weeks of training underneath our belt," Kefu said.

"So we will come into that game really well prepared - more prepared than probably any of the other games in the campaigns I've been involved in," he said.

"So looking forward to that but that's still quite a fair way away but it's something at the end of the tunnel for the boys because you don't get the opportunity to play against the All Blacks all the time."

Tonga head coach Toutai Kefu.

Tonga head coach Toutai Kefu. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The All Blacks hosted Fiji in Dunedin before the 2011 Rugby World Cup and played Manu Samoa in Apia ahead of the 2015 tournament.

New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wanted more games in the lead-up to the 2019 event and Tonga were more than happy to oblige.

"We invited Tonga to play this fixture which we saw as an important part of the All Blacks' preparation but also a great way for Tonga to prepare for Rugby World Cup 2019," he said.

Hamilton has become something of a second home for Tongan supporters, who turned out in the thousands to support Mate Ma'a Tonga during matches against Toa Samoa and the Kiwis at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

In January, FMG Stadium will also be the scene of Tonga's first World Sevens Series event in five years.

"As New Zealanders we really admire the way Tongan supporters get behind their team with such passion and commitment," Tew said.

"We're looking forward to their enthusiasm and energy joining with All Blacks fans creating an amazing atmosphere in January and September."

'Ikale Tahi captain Siale Piutau playing for Tonga against the All Blacks during the opening match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

'Ikale Tahi captain Siale Piutau playing for Tonga against the All Blacks during the opening match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The 'Ikale Tahi will also be involved in an expanded Pacific Nations Cup next year, alongside Fiji, Samoa, Japan, USA and Canada.

Tonga Rugby Chief Executive Fe'ao Vunipola said playing the All Blacks was an ideal way for the team to prepare for Japan.

"We know from our wonderful experiences in Auckland and Hamilton that our team is very much loved and supported by Tongan and many non-Tongan fans," he said.

"Although this is an All Blacks team playing at home, we would like to think that our supporters will come out in force and effectively turn it into a home game for Tonga and give us a fantastic send off for Rugby World Cup 2019 where we want to do our nation proud."

The 'Ikale Tahi ended their Northern Tour with a 20-9 defeat in Georgia at the weekend, following a win over the French Barbarians and a loss to Wales.

Interim Chair and President of the Tonga Rugby Union, Fe'ao Vunipola, packing down against the All Blacks in the 1999 World Cup.

Tonga Rugby CEO Fe'ao Vunipola (2) packs down against the All Blacks in 1999. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

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