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Rugby union in Tonga
Sipi Tau.jpg
The national team performing the sipi tau
Governing body Tonga Rugby Football Union
National team Tonga
Nickname(s) Ikale Tahi
First played Early 20th century
Registered players 10,236 (total)
5,516 (adult)
 - Rugby World Cup
 - Pacific Nations Cup
 - Rugby World Cup Sevens
 - IRB Sevens World Series
 - Pacific Rugby Cup
 - Datec Cup Provincial Championship

Rugby union is the national sport of Tonga. Tonga are considered to be a tier 2 rugby nation by the International Rugby Board.

Tonga has four main rugby playing islands, Vava’u which produced players like Epi Taione, Ha’apai which produced players like Jonah Lomu, Eua which produced the Vunipola family, 8 brothers which all played for the national team and Tongatapu the major island in the Tonga island group.


Governing body

Rugby union is governed by the Tonga Rugby Football Union[1] who are also members of the Pacific Islands Rugby Alliance.

Tonga were awarded 'second tier' status by the International Rugby Board which entitles them to funding from the IRB. The TRFU was founded in 1923, and joined the IRB, in 1987.[1]


Rugby union was brought to the region in the early 20th Century by sailors and missionaries. The main impetus for the establishment of rugby in Tonga came from the Irish missionaries in the 1920s, who introduced it to Tupo College and Tonga College.[1] However, from then on, the main influence has been from New Zealand,[2] as well as the neighbouring Pacific Islands of Samoa and Fiji, which not unlike Tonga perform far beyond their small population bases.[2] Like Fiji and Samoa, they have a strong tendency towards rugby sevens, which suits their population and geography, and have performed well at the Hong Kong tournament.[2]

Tonga beat Fiji 9-6 in their first test in 1924 played in the capital Nukuʻalofa.

1973 is arguably the high water mark of Tongan rugby, when they managed to beat Australia 16-11.[2]

The New Zealand connection, as with Samoa, has been a mixed blessing, since on the one hand it means that Tongans can play in a major field, but on the other that winning a cap for the All Blacks is a major ambition for many Tongans.[2]

Notable Tongan players include-

Jonah Lomu, who was born in Auckland to Tongan family, but grew up in New Zealand and played there, and would have been able to qualify for the Tonga side.


Rugby union is the national sport of Tonga and as in the rest of Polynesia is a way of life. Though Tongans are passionate rugby followers, the small population base means that internationally, Tongan rugby continually struggles.

The International Rugby Board (IRB) estimates that Tonga has a total of 800 registered senior players and twice as many juniors.

Rugby is popular in the nation's schools and students from schools such as Tonga College and Tupou College, are regularly offered scholarships from New Zealand, Australia and Japan. Jonah Lomu, Viliami (William) 'Ofahengaue, Toutai Kefu, Finau Maka, Charles Riechelmann and Pita Alatini and George Smith are all of Tongan descent.

The money coming back from Tongan players playing rugby abroad is Tonga's second biggest export after sugar.



Datec Cup Provincial Championship

The is the second highest level of competition within Tongan rugby union and is a stepping stone for local players into international rugby.

Pacific Rugby Cup

The IRB Pacific Rugby Cup started in 2006 and involves representative teams from the three Pacific rugby unions, Tonga along with Samoa and Fiji. Tonga has two sides in the tournament, Tau'uta Reds and Tautahi Gold. The aim of the tournamen is to improve the quality of rugby in the Pacific Islands.

Representative teams


The national team (Ikale Tahi) has performed quite well on the international stage. Tonga has competed at five Rugby World Cups, the first being in 1987, and its best result to date was in 2007 when it defeated the USA and Samoa before losing narrowly to South Africa, the eventual winners of the competition, and England, the runners-up. By finishing third in their group, Tonga gained automatic qualification to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, to be held in New Zealand.

Tonga also competes in the Pacific Tri-Nations and the IRB Pacific 5 Nations. At club level, there are the Datec Cup Provincial Championship and the Pacific Rugby Cup. Rugby union is governed by the Tonga Rugby Football Union, which is also a member of the Pacific Islands Rugby Alliance. Tonga contributes to the Pacific Islanders rugby union team.

Tonga performs the Kailao (Sipi Tau) before its matches.

Pacific Tri-Nations

The Pacific Tri-Nations is the series between Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. It has been played since 1982.

IRB Pacific 5 Nations

The IRB Pacific 5 Nations is a competition held between five Pacific rim sides; Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and the Junior All Blacks (New Zealand's second XV).

National (sevens)

See also

External links


  • Bath, Richard (ed.) The Complete Book of Rugby (Seven Oaks Ltd, 1997 ISBN 1 86200 013 3)
  • Richards, Huw A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 2007, ISBN 9781845962555)
  1. ^ a b c Bath, p75
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bath, p76


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