Tonga hoping for sea of red fans against All Blacks, Samoa

Tonga is hoping the famous sea of red will turn out in force when they face the All Blacks in their first rugby test in almost two years.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – NOVEMBER 25: Tonga fans during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Semi Final match between Tonga and England at Mt Smart Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The ‘Ikale Tahi will take on the three time world champions at Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium on 3 July in their first match since the 2019 World Cup.

Tongan fans have previously packed out the South Auckland stadium for rugby league tests against England, New Zealand and Australia.

Tonga Rugby Union CEO Peter Harding is hoping their loyal supporters will turn up en masse.

We’re hoping that we get everybody there…a sea of red. There might be a little bit of black in there at some stage but we’re hoping for as much red as we can possibly get in there,” he said.

“Our fans are very very passionate and they’ll get out there and support the team no matter what, so what we want is a full stadium, everyone turning up and everyone dressed in a red jersey.”

Manu Samoa will face the Māori All Blacks in the curtain raiser at Mount Smart Stadium, before Samoa and Tonga clash in two Rugby World Cup qualifying matches on consecutive weekends.

Peter Harding said he discussed with ‘Ikale Tahi coach Toutai Kefu whether playing the All Blacks would help or hinder the kingdom’s World Cup hopes, before deciding it was an opportunity they could not afford to turn down.

“We have to take that game to give the players the opportunity to test themselves against the best team over the last ten years and it’s not really for us to decide to take that opportunity off them. How many times do we get it? We don’t get it very often. We wanted to make sure they got the chance to play the All Blacks.”

Despite the excitement of playing New Zealand, Tonga’s main focus remained the two-tests against Samoa on 10 and 17 July, from which the aggregate winner will qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023.

“Our one objective this July is to qualify for the World Cup again,” Harding stressed.

“Once we qualify then we can really get stuck into preparing for it: blooding new people, blooding new players, blooding new staff, but until that’s done then everything is up in the air. It has to be the number one priority.”

Most of Tonga’s European based players will not be able to travel to New Zealand for the qualifying matches, because of the requirement to quarantine for 14 on arrival, but Toutai Kefu and his staff were working hard to put together the strongest squad possible, Harding said.

“All the original planning was done about the majority of the squad coming from Tongan qualified players living in New Zealand and the majority of the squad will be based around those sort of players.

“We’re in this situation that we can’t control so we’re doing whatever we can to make sure we get a good team and a good bunch of staff out there on the day.

“With the talent around, if you look through ITM Cup (NPC in New Zealand) and Super Rugby teams there’s a lot of Tongans who can play and play well, and we’re doing our very best to convince them to play for Tonga.”

A venue for the first test between Tonga and Samoa on 10 July is yet to be confirmed, with the All Blacks hosting Fiji at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on the same day.

All four teams will take part in a double-header the following weekend at FMG Stadium in Hamilton.

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