29 Mar 2016

Sport: Former Tonga Rugby boss hits back at criticisms

12:08 pm on 29 March 2016

The former head of the Tonga Rugby Union says claims the organisation is broke are incorrect.

The Union's Interim chief executive, chair and president, Fe'ao Vunipola, told RNZ International it was working with the government to address debts of more than US$300,000 that has left it unable to pay staff and caused World Rugby to suspend all financial support.

Epeli Taione resigned as resident and chair of the Union after the 'Ikale Tahi's disappointing Rugby World Cup campaign.

He acknowledged debts owed to Carinat Sport Marketing and Mount Smart Stadium in New Zealand but disagreed the TRU owed any money to former captain Finau Maka over a sponsorship dispute.

Tonga Rugby Chair Epeli Taione at a Rugby World Cup 2015 event.

Former Tonga Rugby Union Chair Epeli Taione Photo: Photosport

Epeli Taione said funding from World Rugby had been frozen because due process wasn't followed when key staff, including high performance manager Peter Harding and national coach Mana Otai, were removed without explanation.

"When the new regime took over...you cannot sack the high performance, manager, the coach and CEO, which is the main head of rugby, so obviously he didn't know where to start and I just think to be honest he's just completely out of his depth. All these words that they're saying that Tonga Rugby Union is broke is far from the mark, it's misinformed and it's untrue. Why World Cup funding is freezing is because he (Vunipola) doesn't follow due process."

Epeli Taione said a payment plan had been in place that would have paid off all the debts by this month, if the TRU had followed the rules, but he says instead Fe'ao Vunipola has chosen to blame everybody but himself.

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