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Moana Pasifika add two Tongan internationals to growing roster

By Alex McLeod

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Moana Pasifika have added two Tongan internationals to their growing roster ahead of their debut Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

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Fresh after announcing the arrivals of ex-Wallabies playmaker Christian Leali’ifano and former Crusaders halfback Ere Enari as the franchise’s first-and-second-ever player signings, the expansion side have moved to bolster their forward pack with their third and fourth additions.

In doing so, they have picked up ‘Ikale Tahi duo Sione Tu’ipulotu and Solomone Funaki, both of whom ply their trade in New Zealand’s NPC for Auckland and Hawke’s Bay, respectively.

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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster speaks to media ahead of USA test
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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster speaks to media ahead of USA test

The pair represent the first players of Tongan heritage signed by Moana Pasifika, which is representative of Samoa and Tonga.

A New Zealand-born utility forward capable of playing at lock and in the back row, Tu’ipulotu – not to be mistaken for his namesake, the midfielder who plays for Glasgow Warriors and was recently named in the Scotland squad for the November internationals – made his debut for Auckland last year.

Also of Samoan heritage, having played for both Tonga’s and Samoa’s U20 team in 2015 and 2016, the 24-year-old also named in the New Zealand U20 team in 2017.

However, he pledged his international allegiance to Tonga when he was named in Toutai Kefu’s squad in July, and made his test debut for Tonga against the All Blacks in their 102-0 drubbing at the hands of the Kiwis at Mt Smart Stadium.

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With seven provincial appearances to his name, Tu’ipulotu went on to feature in all three of Tonga’s World Cup qualifiers against Samoa and the Cook Islands three months ago.

Funaki, meanwhile, made his debut for Hawke’s Bay in 2018, but didn’t establish himself as a regular for the Magpies until last year.

Like Tu’ipulotu, the 27-year-old loose forward made his test debut for Tonga against the All Blacks earlier this year, and has since played a key role in guiding Hawke’s Bay to the summit of the NPC Premiership standings with four rounds to play.

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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Moana Pasifika add two Tongan internationals to growing roster

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