A pair of World Cup warm-up clashes between Pacific Island nations and a New Zealand Heartland XV will be hosted at Eden Park on August 31.
In an event billed as the ‘Pasifika Challenge II: The Road to Japan’, Fiji will take on Tonga while Samoa will face the Heartland XV in back-to-back matches in Auckland in preparation for this year’s World Cup in Japan, which kicks-off three weeks later.
The series of matches follows on from the inaugural Pasifika Challenge contest in 2017, which was used as a warm-up event for that year’s British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.
This year’s follow-up edition adds to the World Cup preparation of all three Pacific Island nations heading to the tournament in September.
It was announced last month that Fiji and the M?ori All Blacks will face off in a two-match series to be played in Suva and Rotorua in July, while Samoa and Tonga have one-off matches against the Wallabies in Sydney and the All Blacks in Hamilton a week after the Pasifika Challenge.
Additionally, all three teams will compete against Japan, the United States and Canada in the Pacific Nations Cup in the weeks preceding their clash at Eden Park.
The event also has the potential to be rewarding off the field for the financially-embattled Pacific nations, according to RNZ, as event organisers Left Field Live, an Australian-based sports rights and entertainment company, have added a monetary incentive based on attendance figures, which will be split evenly by the Fijian, Samoan and Tongan rugby unions.
Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development, a branch of the Auckland Council, is involved with hosting the matches, and there is hope that fans will turn out in big numbers in similar fashion to the way in which they have supported the likes of Mate Ma’a Tonga in rugby league in recent years.
The Pasifika Challenge II will be played during the second round of New Zealand’s amateur provincial competition, the Heartland Championship, meaning that some of the league’s best players will be unavailable for their provinces for that weekend.
It will also be played simultaneously with the Mitre 10 Cup that round, and although no teams within the Auckland region are playing at home that day, Auckland will be playing against Waikato in Hamilton at 7:35pm, meaning a scheduling clash is likely between the competitions.
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