Tonga and Samoa are relishing the chance to play international rugby again as they step up preparations for their Women's Rugby World Cup repechage qualifier.
The match was meant to take place in Apia in April but was postponed due to Covid-19.
A final date and venue is yet to be confirmed but RNZ Pacific understands the qualifying match will be held on November 14th at the 2021 World Cup venue Waitakere Stadium.
Tonga assistant coach, Sione Pulu, said their squad is excited to get back on the field again after a dramatic campaign which involved a measles outbreak, visa entry complications and a global pandemic. (links)
"I think we're still lucky it's going ahead," he said.
"[The girls] are excited because back in March we were in lockdown and then it happened again, but everybody's pretty excited to prep for this one."
Tonga defeated Papua New Guinea in March to secure their showdown against the Manusina which Pulu said marked a milestone for women's rugby in the kingdom.
ORWR Round 1| RESULTS:— Oceania Rugby (@oceaniarugby) March 1, 2020
24 - 36
The ANZ PNG Cassowaries, were defeated by the solid Women's XV, in the historic encounter today!
Women's XV, will now face Manusina XV in April, for the Oceania Rugby Women's Repechage round 2.#TONvPNG #OceaniaWomens pic.twitter.com/6He7VZYdgA
"Out of all our Pacific [contenders], Samoa and Fiji, we're the newbies because we've only been in this game for a little while so this is definitely a big thing for Tonga... it's a milestone," he said.
"We haven't been in the playing system for too long but getting to this point has been something worth celebrating."
Pulu said they've got a tough challenge ahead and expect Samoa will come out firing.
"To qualify for the World Cup means everybody's going to bring their 'A game' because whoever wins on the day deserves to be in that World Cup."
"We're expecting a real big game. Manusina has been here before more times than we have, and we look at Manusina as being a worthy opponent for us. Being our Pacific sisters, they will definitely be ready for us so we've got to bring our best game."
Manusina coach, Ramsey Tomokino, said they're looking forward to the long-awaited game, but he's disappointed the overseas-based players will miss out.
"Obviously Covid-19 has affected the ability to play some games earlier in the Oceania competition but we've just got to move forward with what's on the horizon," he said.
"It's just unfortunate with the borders that we're not able to bring in any of our Samoa and Australia-based players."
With global borders still shut, both teams have been forced to select players already based in New Zealand.
Half a dozen Samoan internationals have been competing in New Zealand's Farah Palmer Cup women's competition and Tomokino said they've had no issues identifying lots of exciting talent.
"We've got quite an extensive list of names from past, current and also potential future players...and so we've got players that are itching to put on the blue jersey and want to take that opportunity," he said.
"We've databased a lot of the Samoan players that expressed interest, are playing Farah Palmer Cup or are playing rugby league and other sports as well."
He said it's a must-win match for Samoa.
"We played Tonga the last time we had Oceania in the first competition and we beat them comprehensively, but we expect them to be better and they'll probably have girls in New Zealand that are quality as well."
"We already know how we want to play them and our training is going to be working towards that but we need to win the match and we need to be in the World Cup."
Both teams are excited to showcase Pasifika women's rugby and hope the match will encourage the community to come out and support.