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Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Heartland XV to play at Eden Park as World Cup warm up
5:56 pm GMT+12, 12/06/2019, New Zealand

Manu Samoa will play a New Zealand Heartland XV team at Eden Park on August 31, while Fiji will play Tonga in a double header billed as the Pasifika Challenge II The Road to Japan.
 
An announcement was made at the venue of the games on Wednesday morning, which will be warm up fixtures for the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
 
New Zealand Rugby board member and former All Black Sir Michael Jones said the fixture shows the organisation's commitment to the Pacific Islands and also grass roots rugby in this country.
 
"We're hosting and supporting the concept of this whole Pasifika Challenge model with the involvement of the Heartland XV, which is very important for us," Jones said.
 
 "The Heartland XV and rugby at the grass roots is an important part of our game and ensuring our players at that level can not only play for their respective provinces, but there is also a level of aspiration for them to represent New Zealand as a Heartland XV play.
 
"To be able to play against teams like Manu Samoa is a fantastic outcome for us.
 
"It also ticks all of the boxes in terms of our support of Pasifika rugby and it's important that we see the game develop and fulfil its potential, but we also realise it's an expression of that it's an important part of who we are with our game, which is a celebration of Pasifika communities here in Aotearoa.
 
If the games can repeat the excitement there was around the Tongan team for their tests in New Zealand during the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the Tongan league tests in New Zealand the past two years, then Jones believes it will be a great occasion at Eden Park.
 
"The Tongan community ignited the 2011 World Cup when they came out in their thousands to paint the town red and they've done that since with the Mate Ma'a Tonga in rugby league," Jones said.
 
"So they are glimpses of the kind of passion and love they have not just for rugby, but for their men in red.
 
"That same patriotism is also felt by the Samoans and Fijians. Auckland is the biggest Polynesian city in the world and to have the opportunity to showcase Pasifika and heartland rugby, with this unique mystique and flavour, is fantastic."
 
The first Pasifika Rugby challenge was in 2017 when the All Blacks played Samoa and Wales faced Tonga in the double header.
 
Without the All Blacks playing, it does add more of an element of risk about what ticket sales could be and it could be seen as a more prudent move to have the games played at the smaller Mt Smart or QBE Stadiums.
 
But Jones says having this at Eden Park shows how committed those involved are.
 
"I think we've put a stake in the ground to say this is an investment we're passionate about and believe in," he said.
 
"We believe that the love, support and passion for the game not only with our Pacific Island communities, but Kiwis also love the game that Pacific teams play.
 
"They also want to see them play well, get into the top eight and one day make a semifinal, so there is that general wider support."
 
One issue though is that the games are on the same day as the second round of the Heartland Championship, so these provinces will be without their best players for that day.
 
However, Jones said this was something all the provinces approved to do.
 
"That was something that was discussed at our last AGM and when we broke into the Heartland teams and discussed this opportunity," he said.
 
"There was a general commitment and desire to make it happen and that does come with a bit of a cost.
 
"But all of the Heartland unions supported this opportunity. Because it's about providing a once in a lifetime opportunity, for a Heartland player to put on that black jersey and play at Eden Park against Manu Samoa.
 
"So it is the amateurs against the professionals, but we know what those young men are capable of and they will grow another six inches in terms of their courage, kaha, desire and pride and passion."
 
Ticket prices will be between $25 and $65 with kick-off times scheduled for 2pm for the NZ Heartland XV and Samoa and 4:30pm for the test between Tonga and Fiji.
 
Tickets go on general sale from June 17.

SOURCE: STUFF NZ/PACNEWS


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