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Tonga coach Toutai Kefu says the eligibility plans for the new Moana Pasifika Super Rugby franchise are encouraging but has warned the All Blacks that outstanding young Tongan players who get “exposure” at Super Rugby level with the new side should be considered off limits.
”Most definitely,” Kefu told Stuff on Tuesday. “We’ve had a lot of young Tongan players over the years who've gone on to play for New Zealand, especially.
There’s [Malakai] Fekitoa, [Shannon] Frizell, Vaea Fifita. That scenario would give those players extra exposure.
“That’s a scenario where we would have to protect ourselves. We would have to throw those rules under the microscope and really investigate those details.”
Kefu's concerns also stem from that fact that, in rugby’s grey eligibility laws, Tongan under-20 players are not automatically ‘captured’ for the senior Tonga test team.
Former All Black Charles Piutau played for the Tonga under-20s before he played for New Zealand, and with the Moana Pasifika franchise set to tap into the Tongan and Samoan high-performance programmes – including their under-20 programs – a young player currently based on the Pacific Islands could develop in Super Rugby and catch the attention of the All Blacks.
Still, Kefu was broadly welcoming of the Moana Pasifika concept, describing it as step forward for Pasifika rugby.
“It’s a good start for us Pacific Islanders, and the Pacific nations,” Kefu said.
“It’s another vehicle where we can expose talent.
“The only concern I have is, ‘Who is in control of Moana Pasifika?’ If it’s indirectly controlled by New Zealand Rugby, there would be some concerns.
“But from what I’m hearing and seeing this concept might be able to keep a lot of my players closer to home, which is fantastic.
“Closer to home, in a good program, and playing some really good competitive football.”
Kefu also hoped that Tonga’s Rugby World Cup qualifiers in July would double as a shop window, allowing local talent to impress the Moana Pasifika scouts.
“At this stage it looks like we’re going to have a lot of home-grown local talent,” he said.
“We just don't know with the Covid rules whether we can get access to those Northern Hemisphere players. We’re also hoping that we can get to our usual spring tour in Europe.
“I would like to think some of the players we blood during those campaigns get a really good look-in for the Moana team.”
It’s self-evident, however, that the Moana Pasifika team won’t be a silver bullet for Tongan rugby.
Both New Zealand and Japan are regular importers of young Tongan talent through the use of scholarships and other opportunities, with rising Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava the latest example of that.
Kefu said he had seen too much talent head off to other countries to make any predictions about a sudden rise in fortunes for Tonga, whose only win at the 2019 Rugby World Cup came against the USA.
“It's really up in the air," Kefu said. “On paper it seems it will [help], it’s another avenue to keep talent home-grown and local.
“But we produce so much talent that the Japanese get their fair share every year, and so do Australia and New Zealand. You would have to see how this process goes in the next couple of years.”..
SOURCE: STUFF NZ/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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