The Manu Samoa and Ikale Tahi Tonga teams will not be featuring any local based players in their upcoming 2023 Rugby World Cup (RWC) qualifiers.
For Tonga, the volcanic eruptions and tsunami in January caused severe damage to its infrastructure. This included many of its sporting facilities being closed.
If this was not enough, the pandemic and the restrictions associated with it meant the end of all local competition.
Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said he will have to make do with the players he has. He said winning will be a bonus, however his first priority was to develop the team.
Samoa was the first nation in the Pacific to put a blanket restriction on international travel and place COVID safe prohibitions when the virus reared its ugly head in the region.
The introduction of the Moana Pasifika in the Super Rugby competition provided a boost for the two teams.
Samoan and Tongan players were provided exposure to high-level competitions. Tonga has 13 Moana Pasifika players in their ranks, while Samoa has 14.
Samoa Head Coach Seilala Mapusua said the Moana Pacifika program had greatly benefitted them as a team.
“Now we are able to get players on board who have been playing at top-level rugby competitions, which is good for us and good for the game,” Mapusua said.
The Pacific Nations Cup which is happening in Fiji at this moment provided the teams an opportunity to assemble for the first time.
Never before had most players in the team had a game together. The Tongan and Samoan players met each other only a week before the start of the PNC.
It seems both coaches are likely to maintain the extended squad and perhaps the only new inclusions would be those playing for the Wallabies, All Blacks and England who decide its time to get back to the roots.
The eligibility laws allow for that, but for any of the local players in non-existent local competitions in Samoa and Tonga, the entry into the national squad is all but closed.
Both teams have more than 60 percent of their World Cup squad currently featuring in the PNC.
After the PNC, Tonga will be playing Hong Kong at the Sunshine Coast Stadium on July 23.
The winner of the match will qualify for the World Cup as the Asia/Pacific qualifier and the winner will be slotted into Pool B along with defending world champions South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, and Romania.
Samoa has qualified as Oceania 1 and grouped with England, Japan, Argentina, and the yet-to-be-determined Americas 2 qualifier.
Meanwhile the PNC continues this weekend with the last round of matches. Samoa remain undefeated and face Fiji.
On the contrary, Tonga have been winless and face a monster of a game against the ever improving Australia A.
Both games are on July 16. Following this Samoa and Tonga head to play in their respective qualifiers.