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Report: Tonga debutant sensationally axed on eve of All Blacks test

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Tonga have reportedly dropped one of their 13 debutants from their side a day out from their test match against the All Blacks amid an eligibility row.


According to Stuff, former New Zealand U20 tighthead prop Tau Koloamatangi has been axed from the ‘Ikale Tahi bench after it was revealed he is ineligible to play for Tonga.

Koloamatangi was named in the No. 18 jersey for this weekend’s clash in what would have been his first test cap for Tonga, but Stuff reports the 26-year-old has been deemed ineligible by World Rugby after he played one match for Hong Kong in 2019.

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Quinn Tupaea named to start for the All Blacks and partners Rieko Ioane in the midfield
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Quinn Tupaea named to start for the All Blacks and partners Rieko Ioane in the midfield

After rising through the ranks in New Zealand, where he was part of the country’s world championship-winning U20 side in 2015, Koloamatangi, a former Waikato representative, relocated to Hong Kong in late 2016.

There, he turned out for Valley in the Hong Kong Premiership and the South China Tigers in the now-defunct Global Rapid Rugby.

Three years after his move, Koloamatangi was called into the Hong Kong national side for their 2019 end-of-year tour of Europe.

It was on that tour where Koloamatangi started for Hong Kong in their 36-17 win over Belgium in Brussels, which, under World Rugby laws, makes him ineligible to play for Tonga.


However, Tongan officials believe Koloamatangi might have been wrongly capped by Hong Kong as he may not have observed the residency requirement of three years.

It’s for that reason that ‘Ikale Tahi team manager Lano Fonua is “pretty confident” Koloamatangi will get clearance to play for the Pacific Island nation in the future.

“He couldn’t get a clearance from World Rugby,” Fonua told Stuff. “That’s being worked through at the moment, but we couldn’t get it in time.

“It’s a case of whether he was actually available to play for Hong Kong in the first place. We’ll see what happens. We’re pretty confident he will play for Tonga, and that capping by Hong Kong was not legal.”


Stuff reports Hong Kong Rugby Union chief executive Robbie McRobbie is aware of the situation and is working alongside the Tongan Rugby Union and World Rugby to resolve the issue, although clarification around Koloamatangi’s residency period in Hong Kong remains unclear.


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It is also unknown whether Koloamatangi will be available to play in Tonga’s following two matches against Manu Samoa, which act as World Cup qualifying fixtures.

The revelation is the latest of many hurdles Tonga have had to overcome in the lead-up to their match against the All Blacks, as COVID-19 travel restrictions have severely limited the number of frontline players available for this match.

Subsequently, ‘Ikale Tahi head coach Toutai Kefu has been forced to name 13 debutants, including Koloamatangi, for this weekend’s test, many of whom are New Zealand-based and have spent this year playing club rugby at grassroots level.

There are some seasoned professionals within Tonga’s ranks – such as captain and Toulon halfback Sonatane Takulua, Canon Eagles wing Hosea Saumaki and Chiefs flanker Zane Kapeli – but there is no hiding Tonga are seriously under-strength.

Bordeaux tighthead prop Ben Tameifuna is another headline name in the Tongan squad, but he is unable to fill the void left by Koloamatangi as he is reportedly still in managed isolation upon his arrival in New Zealand from France.

Instead, ‘Ikale Tahi have called former Blues prop Lua Li, who now plays in Major League Rugby for the San Diego Legion, onto the bench, according to Stuff.


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