TONGA – Some Tongan rugby players would return from Europe “in a heartbeat” to play for a Pacific Super Rugby team, Tonga head coach Toutai Kefu says.
The prospect of launching a Pacific side is being studied in New Zealand.
Kefu said Tongan professionals in Europe would be eager to ply their trade closer to home.
“More than 50 per cent of my players are in Top14 in France and also the England competition. If we had a Super Rugby team here, we’d be able to keep a fair amount of our starting players right here in the Pacific,” he said.
While there might be issues combining players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, Kefu said they could be easily overcome.
“I don’t think that will be a problem. There’s going to be some issues but if they are addressed thoroughly I don’t think there’ll be an issue.
“We’re all Pacific islanders. There’s not to much culturally different between Tongans, Fijians and Samoans – so I don’t see that as a problem at all.”
Kefu agreed a Pacific Super Rugby team should probably be based in Fiji as it’s union was now a “benchmark” in the Pacific, but he said it would also be viable to hold games in Samoa and Tonga.
“If you look towards the Rugby League World Cup and what Tonga did there, I think we would draw on a lot of those fans who would support a Pacific team,” he said.
Pacific fans would no doubt flock to see players like Charles Piutau and Ben Tameifuna, both of whom “would come back in a heartbeat” to play for a Pacific Super Rugby team, Kefu said.
Former All Black Piutau was also among a group of “five or six top line players” hoping to play for the Kingdom.
They could become eligible by playing for Tonga at a Sevens qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics, the coach said.
“There’s a bloody good group of players that are keen to come for Tonga.
“This tournament is in Fiji. Now they haven’t confirmed if it will be before or after the World Cup.
“If it’s before the World Cup then I get access to five or six top line players.”
The ‘Ikale Tahi is training in Auckland this week as build up for Tests against Georgia, Samoa and Fiji next month.