Aside from the growing feel good stories and renewed momentum for a Pacific Super Rugby team, that has partly arisen from New Zealand rugby’s recent push to promote the game in the Pacific, one thing is evidently clear when it comes to Tonga, the third pillar of the Pacific’s traditional trio of rugby powerhouses alongside Fiji and Samoa, is that the humble home of the Ikale Tahi is in real danger of being left behind and missing out on the festivities altogether.
Tonga is the only remaining traditional Pacific power yet to receive the New Zealand Rugby Union’s good graces on home soil, and to be fair, many valid points can be made as to why this has been the case thus far.
Perhaps the most obvious resonate internally to Tonga itself, with well-publicized issues relating to inadequate infrastructure, committee and political in-fighting, financial irresponsibility, non-transparency or just plain lack of finances to name only but a few issues that have gone public outlining the difficulties associated to dealings with Tonga.
However, if there is one thing the landmark games in Fiji and Samoa will provide Tongan fans, it is hope.
Hope that despite the obstacles their fellow Fijian and Samoan neighbours also shared, they were still able to overcome them.
One could make a compelling argument as to why the All Blacks first chose to visit Samoa, one of those possible reasons is the recognition of the amazing number of players with Samoan heritage that have made a very real contribution to the make-up of the world rugby juggernaut that is New Zealand.
You only have to look at the unprecedented number of Samoan players who could also legitimately be considered greats of the game, or at the very least greats in an All Black jersey a la Brian Williams, Michael Jones, Tana Umaga, Kevin Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu, etc etc to understand the enormity of Samoa’s influence on New Zealand rugby.
Despite periodic appearances of great Fijian and and Tongan players here and there, they do not make a dent in comparison to the quality and sustained contribution their Samoan counterparts have made.
Yes, the Tongans lay claim to arguably the most well known and truly global All Black rugby superstar via Jonah Lomu but aside from the late great winger, and with all due respect to others who have donned the All Black jersey, the greatest impact Tonga has had on a tier one nation is not New Zealand.
If we are speaking of tier one nations and acknowledging their rich ties to Pacific nations, the country that should visit the Friendly Isles before any other is not the All Blacks, it is the Wallabies.
Such is the case with Samoans in New Zealand, when it comes to Australia, of the three Pacific rugby nations in question, Tonga has not only contributed more to the Wallabies in terms of players, Tonga can also lay claim to four Pacific players that have left indelible marks on the Wallaby jersey so great, they have yet to be surpassed by any other players from other Pacific regions who have followed behind in their respective positions, via the likes of George Smith, Toutai Kefu, Viliami Ofahengaue and Israel Folau.
Acknowledging the Pacific by tier one rugby nations is obviously not an exercise in increasing profit margins, rather a moral throw back to the gentlemanly values centred around respect, loyalty and honour from which rugby was built.
Ongoing pressure by sections of the New Zealand media finally forced the All Blacks to graciously accept those values and understand that they had to do more in the Pacific. As a result, Samoa and Fiji ultimately went onto reap the benefits of those efforts, the goodwill raised from those matches has been immeasurable.
Most importantly, acknowledging the role of the Pacific is not the sole responsibility for the All Blacks to bear, quite the contrary, if there was another tier one rugby playing country that has benefited from Pacific player contributions aside from the All Blacks, particularly in the case of Tonga, it is Australia.
Leading Wallabies like David Pocock and Wycliff Palu have already stated their desire to see the Wallabies also follow the All Blacks lead and acknowledge the Pacific’s role to Australian rugby.
So why not get on the front foot and tour the Pacific country that has given most to the Wallaby cause, and is still waiting in obscurity for an opportunity to be acknowledged in the same way Fiji and Samoa have?
It is the Wallabies duty to ensure Tonga is rightfully acknowledged for their contribution to world rugby, Tonga deserves their time in the limelight too.
By James Kite