US-based rugby coach Adriaan Ferris says it's an honour to be asked to lead the Tonga men's sevens team at next month's Final Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Monaco.
The Tonga Rugby Union announced last month that players and staff based in New Zealand and Tonga would not be considered for selection because of the ongoing risks associated with Covid-19, with regular coach Tevita Tu'ifua also remaining in New Zealand.
So, Ferris will pick European-based players and possibly one or two from Japan.
Adriaan Ferris, of Ngāti Porou, is a former Northland NPC coach where he crossed paths with a number of Tongan players, including Fetu'u Vainikolo and Taniela Moa.
The Athletics Director at Life West College in San Francisco is no stranger to Tongan rugby and said he was looking forward to helping out once again.
"It was a bit out of the blue to get a call from Tevita and the Board. They could have chosen anyone and I guess having that relationship with a number of players and the coaching staff and management of the team I feel very privileged to be asked and certainly took this opportunity," he said.
Ferris was first approached by Tonga a month ago and is still working with Tevita Tu'ifua and manager Richard Weightman to try and select the strongest squad possible.
"It's going to be a tough ask but certainly Pacific Island rugby - Tonga especially - are not immune to being challenged and it's going to be a great opportunity for those players selected."
The selection process has been a collaborative effort, Ferris said, with 'Ikale Tahi coach Toutai Kefu also offering his perspective on how the sevens and fifteens programmes can work together.
"There is a loophole in World Rugby regulations, that will allow for some players to be captured by Tonga to make them eligible for the 2023 World Cup, and so we're going to try and exploit every opportunity to get those players captured if possible.
"That's an understanding that we are all aware of and the beauty about that is the sevens programme is working closely with Toutai Kefu in identifying players that he feels can add value to the 'Ikale Tahi moving forward so it's pretty exciting."
A handful of former All Blacks and Wallabies internationals have put their hands up to represent Tonga in Monaco but Covid-19 and club commitments remain an ongoing challenge.
"We have some serious players lined up. What shape we arrive in and the mindset that we have is really unknown at this stage because we just haven't been preparing for this tournament," Ferris said.
"All players are professionals and they're currently involved in their club commitments up in the UK and France and Italy and the rest of Europe. It will be a challenge but it's going to be a challenge that these young men will be excited to put the red jersey on again."
Ferris will not have to quarantine on his return to the United States after receiving two doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.
But there is still uncertainty about if and for how long the squad will need to quarantine on their arrival in France, he said.
"We still aren't sure about that...the French government put a 10-day quarantine mandate in front of everyone trying to travel to France from the UK, and that's going to affect five or six of our players, so that is a concern.
"At the end of the day I can assure you we will front up with 13 players and make sure that we give it the best that we can to be successful."