WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Tonga is planning to go ahead with its northern hemisphere rugby tour this month despite the recent decision by Samoa to cancel its tour over COVID-19 concerns.
Samoa announced it would not tour because strict domestic border policies would not allow Samoa-based players to return home if they have been to countries with COVID-19 outbreaks. The Samoa team was due to play Spain, Uruguay and Romania before meeting a British Barbarians selection at Twickenham.
The Samoa union said in a statement it was not able to “guarantee the safety of any of our players and management whilst on campaign and the current state of emergency measures by the government restricts the return of anyone within six months of contracting the virus."
Chief executive Faleomavaega Vincent Fepuleai said “this was a major obstacle to keep our borders safe. We do accept the implications and scale of consequences the pandemic can have to our small country with limited resources.”
Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua said the decision to cancel was the right one, though it was tough on players, fans and host teams.
“As head coach, our performance and reputation to our brand is severely hampered if we cannot get our team together,” Mapusua said. “However, the safety and well-being of protecting Samoa from the current COVID-19 variant pandemic was ultimately the right call.”
Tonga on Thursday said it believes its tour can proceed despite the problems of travel during the pandemic. The Ikale Tahi are due to play Scotland in the last week of October and England, the French Barbarians and Romania in November.
Tonga Rugby Union chief executive Peter Harding said most of their national team players already are based in the northern hemisphere. Selecting players from Australia and New Zealand would be more difficult because of those nations’ border restrictions.
"Samoa’s made a very difficult decision,” Harding told Radio New Zealand. “We’re not in their building so we can’t really comment on why they made the decision but we do understand, intimately understand, the difficulties of putting this tour together.
“Honestly it is such an energy-sapper but we’re going to go ahead with ours and that’s the decision we’ve made.”
Harding said head coach Toutai Kefu won’t tour because he and his family are still recovering from a violent home invasion in Brisbane, Australia in August.
The national teams from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina completed the Rugby Championship in Australia's Queensland state last weekend and will all embark on tours to the northern hemisphere later this month.
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