Sport: New Tonga Rugby boss has big plans
The new interim head of the Tonga Rugby Union explains his vision for the game.
Tonga Rugby has a new man in charge.
Fe'ao Vunipola has been appointed interim chairman and president of the Tonga Rugby Union until the AGM in May next year following the sudden resignation of Epeli Taione.
The former test hooker and national Under 20s coach told Vinnie Wylie he's returned home from the UK especially to take on his new role and has plenty of ideas.
FE'AO VUNIPOLA: I never thought that Epeli would resign. He had until May to fulfill his four year arrangement. I think he resigned because of the result of our rugby [at the World Cup] and plus some other issues which I don't want to discuss, about pending court cases with Tonga Rugby Union and all those stuff. I was planning to come back in May and try to get in in any capacity to be involved at board level - having this now I think is a blessing for me.
VINNIE WYLIE: One of the other things you've mentioned is to establish a set number of players in the 'Ikale Tahi that are locals - is that really the job of the Tonga Rugby Union or is that not something that the head coach of the 'Ikale Tahi should decide and secondly how confident are you that locally based players can compete with the best of international rugby?
FV: That role was supposed to be with our head coach but it has never been done. In the last four years local players never have a look-in. I think it depends on the coach's perception - that everything local isn't good enough. I don't see it that way. The local boys need extra coaching, maybe an additional tour to New Zealand or Australia for them to have the exposure that they need against top quality opposition so that they can learn and gain the experience from there. Ignoring them is no option for me.
VW: You did just say, earlier in this conversation though, that the game had gone downhill at home since 2003 so if the standard isn't very high back home is that not therefore a reason why there isn't many locals in the national team at the moment?
FV: At the moment there's a competition run by a private organisation - by a church group - and if you watch the games there you can tell that the level of rugby is high. I know with the local club competition it's not as good as this one. The coach should have talked to the local coach[es] and tell them what he's looking for and pinpoint and highlight the weaknesses in the local game so that they can raise it to a level that he's satisfied that if he picked a local boy to the national team they can perform at the level that he needs, but I think it was never done. I think that's the weakness of bringing in a foreign coach to Tonga. He has all the technicalities he needs but when he comes to Tonga he needs to come down to a level and didn't try to raise them up by coaching them, that's my view".
VW: You talk about establishing a rugby academy in Tonga and I guess that would be a way to try and develop some of the young players as well in the country?
FV: If we budget wisely, smartly, the money that we have from World Rugby we should be able to afford academies in the country. It doesn't cost much because the boys won't be getting paid - they'll be getting an allowance for bus fares and meals. I think all we need to bring in is money for the players' allowances when they're on tour and the kit and all those staff. Most of the staff are being paid by World Rugby so we're not talking about
millions of Tongan pa'anga to fulfill our part of the deal. I don't know how we escalate all those debts by the former regime but it's something we need to sit down and look at it. We haven't had a board meeting yet but we will this Friday so we will be fleshing out everything that we need to talk about before the break.
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