Rugby union in Tonga
|Rugby union in Tonga|
The national team performing the sipi tau
|Governing body||Tonga Rugby Union|
|First played||Early 20th century|
|Registered players||6,891 (total)
Tonga has four main rugby playing islands, Vava'u which produced players like Epi Taione, Ha'apai which produced players like Jonah Lomu, Eua which produced the Vunipola family, (eight brothers who all played for the national team), and Tongatapu the major island in the Tonga island group.
Rugby union was brought to the region in the early 20th Century by sailors and missionaries. The main impetus for the establishment of rugby in Tonga came from the Irish missionaries in the 1920s, who introduced it to Tupo College and Tonga College. However, from then on, the main influence has been from New Zealand, as well as the neighbouring Pacific Islands of Samoa and Fiji, which not unlike Tonga perform far beyond their small population bases. Like Fiji and Samoa, they have a strong tendency towards rugby sevens, which suits their population and geography, and have performed well at the Hong Kong tournament.
1973 is arguably the high water mark of Tongan rugby, when they managed to beat Australia 16-11.
The New Zealand connection, as with Samoa, has been a mixed blessing, since on the one hand it means that Tongans can play in a major field, but on the other that winning a cap for the All Blacks is a major ambition for many Tongans.
Notable Tongan players include-
Jonah Lomu, who was born in Auckland to Tongan family, but grew up in New Zealand and played there, and would have been able to qualify for the Tonga side.
Rugby union is the national sport of Tonga and as in the rest of Polynesia is a way of life. Though Tongans are passionate rugby followers, the small population base means that internationally, Tongan rugby continually struggles.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) estimates that Tonga has a total of 800 registered senior players and twice as many juniors.
Rugby is popular in the nation's schools and students from schools such as Tonga College and Tupou College, are regularly offered scholarships from New Zealand, Australia and Japan. Jonah Lomu, Viliami (William) 'Ofahengaue, Toutai Kefu, Finau Maka, Charles Riechelmann and Pita Alatini and George Smith are all of Tongan descent.
The money coming back from Tongan players playing rugby abroad is Tonga's second biggest export after sugar.
Datec Cup Provincial Championship
The is the second highest level of competition within Tongan rugby union and is a stepping stone for local players into international rugby.
Pacific Rugby Cup
The IRB Pacific Rugby Cup started in 2006 and involves representative teams from the three Pacific rugby unions, Tonga along with Samoa and Fiji. Tonga has two sides in the tournament, Tau'uta Reds and Tautahi Gold. The aim of the tournamen is to improve the quality of rugby in the Pacific Islands.
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The national team (Ikale Tahi) has performed quite well on the international stage. Tonga has competed at five Rugby World Cups, the first being in 1987, and its best result to date was in 2007 when it defeated the USA and Samoa before losing narrowly to South Africa, the eventual winners of the competition, and England, the runners-up. By finishing third in their group, Tonga gained automatic qualification to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, held in New Zealand.
Tonga also competes in the Pacific Tri-Nations and the IRB Pacific 5 Nations. At club level, there are the Datec Cup Provincial Championship and the Pacific Rugby Cup. Rugby union is governed by the Tonga Rugby Union, which is also a member of the Pacific Islands Rugby Alliance. Tonga contributes to the Pacific Islanders rugby union team.
Tonga performs the Kailao (Sipi Tau) before its matches.
IRB Pacific 5 Nations
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rugby union in Tonga.|
- Bath, p75
- Bath, p76
- Bath, Richard, ed. (1997). Complete Book of Rugby. Seven Oaks. ISBN 1-86200-013-1.
- Richards, Huw (2007). A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union. Edinburgh: Mainstream. ISBN 978-1-84596-255-5.