Tonga still hopeful of playing at home

The 'Ikale Tahi are still hopeful of playing in Tonga this year despite confirmation the June test against Wales will not be played in Nuku'alofa.

The Wales Rugby Union had expressed concerns about the availability of medical cover in Tonga, in case of a serious injury, and about the readiness of Teufaiva National Stadium, which is being redeveloped for the 2019 Pacific Games.

The 'Ikale Tahi have not played on home soil since a 2009 defeat against Fiji and head coach Toutai Kefu said they were desperate to change that.

"We kind of knew a while back that it was heading down that track, where that Welsh test was not going to be in Tonga," he said.

"But it was a still a possibility the two Rugby World Cup qualifiers [against Fiji and Samoa] may still be in Tonga - we're still clinging on to that.

"Look, from my point of view, we're desperate to play at home: we haven't played a test [in Tonga] for a good chunk of ten years now I think now, which is a terrible position to be in, especially this year.

"We need to qualify for the World Cup 2019 and having those two World Cup qualifiers at home gives us a huge advantage.

"But not only that, the guys can play in front of their home crowd: family, friends back on the island, and that means a lot."

Kefu said he remembered playing some games at Teufaiva and the support from the Tongan crowd was "something to be seen".

"If we played in Tonga against Fiji and Samoa that would give us a huge advantage and I'd be quite confident, as well as having a good team on the field, of coming away with two wins," he said.

"That's how important it is to play in front of our home crowd."

Kefu said the playing field at Teufaiva National Stadium would have to be completely re-turfed before it was fit to host test rugby.

He said the grass alone would take three to fourth months to grow out while trial period and practice matches would need to be held before an international game was considered.

"All we can do is hope but it seems like probably a bridge too far now that those qualifiers are still on the table to be played," he said.

The Wales test is now likely to be played in New Zealand at either Growers Stadium in Pukekohe or North Harbour Stadium in Albany