Tonga women's XV breaking rugby barriers

The Tongan women's rugby team is continuing to break down barriers in their bid to qualify for the 2021 World Cup.

It was only two years ago when the kingdom's ministry placed a ban on girls playing rugby in schools, a move which was quickly reversed following public outrage.

The team had to withdraw from the Oceania Rugby Championship in November over measles concerns but were thrown a World Cup lifeline after World Rugby agreed to a revised qualification process.

However, last weekend's repechage qualifier against Papua New Guinea had to be postponed by 24 hours after visa entry complications because of the coronavirus twice prevented the Tongan team's departure from Auckland.

Despite all that adversity, prevailed 36-24 in Port Moresby.

Assistant coach Sione Pulu said they had overcome a number of challenges to play the game they love.

"It was only a couple of years ago when females were banned from playing rugby in Tonga...we had the measles situation last year and then this."

"Most international teams don't do that sort of thing where they fly in a day before and then play on the next day, so it was very demanding of the girls."

"Normally, you get a few days to acclimatise and all that but it's a little bit different when you're a hosting country, you don't have to go anywhere you just need to prep, but with us we had to get in there get stuck into it and then get back again."

Tonga is one step closer to World Cup qualification and will face Samoa on 18 April for a berth in the final global repechage tournament.

"There were a few tears that were shed when the final whistle went, especially with the whole lead-up to the game and what they went through," he said.

"PNG wanted it just as much as we did. It was tooth and nail from both sides and quite an awesome game. The girls dug deep and it was a close game right up to the very last minute but they got through in the end."

Pulu added that winning the upcoming game against Samoa would be celebrated in the kingdom, and the scheduled match was proof of how far they had come already.

"To win against Samoa would be quite a big accomplishment. We look at them and Fiji as the guys that we try to be like or be better than.

"The Samoan team and Fiji have been in this a little bit longer than the women from Tonga so we're trying to close that gap bit by bit every chance we get. We know Samoa is going to be very strong and that's probably why they finished second with obviously Fiji first."

"Because of the quarantine last year we've had this repechage opportunity to try and grab that spot but it's going to be a fight, so if we want it then it's got to be done on the day."

Tonga's management were looking at travelling plans to better prepare the team in a warmer climate ahead of their match against Samoa and hoped nothing else got in their way.

"There are talks about a few different options we could take but obviously trying to organise and making sure the visas and that are sorted, because visas going to PNG was the problem," he said.

"In this game we don't have any visas so we're looking at trying to get there a little bit earlier, have a little bit of time to climatise and have a few good training sessions there and follow through."

Win or lose, Pulu said it was all about celebrating women's rugby in the Pacific.