12 Feb 2020

Sport: Tonga Sevens chasing World Series spot

3:25 pm on 12 February 2020

Tonga is taking nothing for granted in its bid to earn a permanent place on the men's World Sevens Series.

The Kingdom are among 13 core teams and three invitational teams, including Papua New Guinea, competing in the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series, which kicks off in Viña del Mar in Chile this weekend.

The Tonga sevens team before departing to Chile.

The Tonga sevens team before departing to Chile. Photo: Supplied

The top eight ranked core teams after the two legs in Chile and Uruguay will compete in the final World Series Qualifier in Hong Kong in April.

Tonga head coach Tevita Tu'ifua said it was important they performed well and maintained their standards across both tournaments.

"This is a big challenge for us because this goes back to Hong Kong - where in Hong Kong it can qualify us for the whole series," he said.

"If we play really well this weekend, I don't think you [can be] fully comfortable [that] you'll qualify from there. Anything can happen on the week, so we treat this series one tournament at a time and break it down one game at a time."

Tevita Tu'ifua also has experience playing on the World Sevens Series.

Tevita Tu'ifua is a former Tongan international in Sevens and Fifteens. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Since finishing fifth at the the Oceania Sevens in November, Tonga has been involved in a number of Auckland-based tournaments.

The Kingdom also had the opportunity to play four games against World Series leaders New Zealand during a two-day camp in Mount Maunganui.

"This is the second time that we've been having that prep with New Zealand and we are so blessed to get that opportunity and we are looking to build that relationship for long-term."

Tonga played New Zealand during a training camp in Mount Maunganui.

Tonga played New Zealand during a training camp in Mount Maunganui. Photo: Supplied

Tu'ifua believed the squad was match-ready and now it was just a matter of qualifying.

'We just need to qualify and get that out of the way to Hong Kong and I believe we have secured in our calendar a hit out against New Zealand again prior to Hong Kong," he said.

"So, we are looking at the end of March, which is a really quality hit out. You can't really ask for better preparation than playing New Zealand."

Tonga's Tana Fotofili evades the Kenyan defence in Sydney.

Tonga captain Tana Fotofili during the 2019 Sydney Sevens. Photo: © Karen Watson 2019

Tana Fotofili will captain the 12-man Tongan line-up, which left New Zealand bound for Chile on Tuesday and includes two new caps.

"We have a couple of new faces here in our group: one from home [Timote Tu'ipulotu] - there was a tournament that we selected a player from there - and we have another one [Viliame Fine] that was playing for Wellington in the nationals," Tu'ifua said.

"Out of that 12, we have two that'll be their first time and they're definitely going to have a game."

Tonga A halfback Johnny Ika, who played in the Oceania Sevens, is now based in Chile after signing for local club Selknam and has been included as the 13th man in case of injuries.

Tonga are scheduled to play Portugal, Uruguay and Japan in their first pool phase. Despite beating Japan during last year's World Series tournament in Sydney, Tu'ifua is expecting all their opponents to be at the top of their games.

"We really can't dwell on our past performances and we're just expecting them to be better than last time...hopefully we just get the result that we are needing."