Bring it on!2 min readReading Time: 2 minutes
Onehunga local, Tevita Tu’ifua, is preparing to travel to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this June to coach the Tongan Sevens Rugby team – and he’s hoping that this time nothing will get in the way of his plans. Tevita, who is the Onehunga Business Association’s community liaison officer, has been the Tongan National coach for the last two years, and came very close to going to Japan for the Olympics, only for Covid-19 to get in the way.
In early 2020, the Tongan side was just two tournaments away from Olympic qualification. They successfully negotiated the first tournament in Chile and were back in New Zealand preparing for the final qualifying competition in Monaco, when the global pandemic struck. The players could still have travelled to Monaco, but unlike the well-funded, fully professional squads of countries like New Zealand and Australia, the costs of MIQ in New Zealand meant they could not afford the trip, nor could they risk being stuck overseas and losing their jobs.
In desperation, Tevita managed to cobble together a side for Monaco, made up entirely of Tongans playing professional club rugby in Europe, including former All Black Malakai Fekitoa. However, it had been years since most of them had played Rugby Sevens and they were unable to get together for training before the tournament. While not lacking in passion or commitment, they were no match for the well-funded and resourced European teams.
Fortunately, Tevita will definitely be going to the Commonwealth Games and this time, because of the pandemic, there are no qualifying tournaments, and the invitations to Birmingham were decided on global rankings from 2019. This guarantees Tonga a place at the Commonwealth Games, as well as the World Challenger Series in Chile, and the Sevens World Cup in South Africa.
A late announcement in May proved to be a piece of great news for the Tongan team – there will now be an Oceania Sevens tournament in Auckland in June before they go to the UK. Initially, and until quite recently, Tevita thought his team would not be able to train together before the Commonwealth Games, but now they’ll have the opportunity to come together to train and play in what they see as a preparation tournament – and it will be fully funded!
Coach Tevita Tu’ifua (left) with Assistant Malilca Liutai (Right) and former OHS pupil Mone Vakameilalo