Star-studded Baabaas ready to chance their arm against Tonga
A Pacific Barbarians rugby team, featuring a host of ex All Blacks and Wallabies players, to play an invitational match against Tonga in Auckland.
A star-studded Pacific Barbarians rugby team will run out onto Mount Smart Stadium in South Auckland on Sunday in a one-off match against the 'Ikale Tahi.
The match was organised by the Tonga Rugby Union after they were left without a test match in the final weekend of the IRB window.
Vinnie Wylie has been speaking with both camps.
The President and Chair of the Tonga Rugby Union, Epi Taione, says with only two Pacific Nations Cup tests this month, the 'Ikale Tahi were desperate to play another game. He says Tonga were unable to host the game because their home ground in Nuku'alofa is not currently up to international standard. Taione says the 'Ikale Tahi deserve more matches against tier one nations but the International Rugby Board is not coming to the party.
EPI TAIONE: We're swimming against the tide on that. Unfortunately the IRB have the say on that and in advance four years they provided all the tests and nominated who is playing who. As a tier two nation we're just plugging holes. I just feel we're basically getting starved in the wilderness on our own - I think Samoa and Fiji feel the same.
The Pacific Barbarians team has been sanctioned by the Barbarians club in England and includes recent Tongan internationals Lua Lokotui, Kurt Morath and Taniela Moa, as well as a host of ex All Blacks and Wallabies, such as Jerry Collins, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Digby Ioane. Former All Black captain Buck Shelford is coaching the team although he admits there will be very little of that happening. He says most of the players met up on Friday and hope to have a full training run on Saturday to shake off a few cobwebs.
BUCK SHELFORD: Well the names they've got there are very very nice but if they turn up is another story. It will be nice to see some of those boys and they're all playing overseas and enjoying their lives whichever city they're in, playing their rugby and some of them have just retired. It's just about getting together and giving Tonga a good run for their money and play a game that's going to bring along a decent crowd.
A shock inclusion in the Baabaa's line-up is Auckland schoolboy sensation Taniela Tupou. Footage of the 135kg prop's try-scoring exploits for Auckland College Sacred Heart has racked up close to half a million YouTube views in the past six weeks. Buck Shelford says he will definitely be given a chance to test himself against the big boys.
BUCK SHELFORD: He will get an opportunity because they're looking at him for the future of Tonga but his future might even go bigger than that if he's good enough - he could actually become an All Black. He will get an opportunity - whether he starts or comes on in the second half or something like that is another thing - but everyone will get a run that's for sure.
The match is a also a reunion of sorts for Barbarians assistant coach Isitolo Maka, who coached the 'Ikale Tahi to a famous victory over France at the last World Cup.
ISITOLO MAKA: It will be good to see the boys and the team. It's a new management and a lot of new players in but just happy to be part of it and see the team and the support of the Tongan people. This game is not going to be very hard for the 'Ikale Tahi because it's a Barbarians [and] we will play like a Barbarians but just looking forward to seeing the boys enjoy themselves and even support them, hopefully they can do well next year.
Tickets are still on sale for tomorrow's clash with officials hoping for a crowd of at least 10,000.
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