Wales and Tonga look for new Test venue

by AFP

The international match between Tonga and Wales scheduled to take place in Nuku'alofa on June 17 will have to be moved to another country because of pitch problems, rugby officials said on Friday.

World Rugby and the Welsh Rugby Union said in a joint statement that the "difficult decision" had been taken after it was confirmed that delays in relation to the redevelopment of the national stadium in Nuku'alofa meant the pitch "may not be fit for purpose in time".

Officials added that, with the agreement of both the Tongan Rugby Union

(TRU) and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU), it was decided to move the match, with the aim of playing the fixture on the same weekend in June.

Tonga could take their Test to New Zealand. Photo: Getty ImagesNo decision on an alternative venue has yet been taken, although New Zealand is the nearest country to Tonga that has several Test-standard grounds.

Friday's announcement will be a setback to all those who want to see the Pacific Island nations stage more internationals amid concerns they have too often lost out on the financial and sporting benefits of playing on home soil.

But World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont insisted the global governing body still wanted to see international matches played in Tonga.

"World Rugby shares in Tonga's disappointment that this match will be moved given the huge effort made by the TRU to date but the decision was jointly agreed by the WRU and World Rugby with the objective of ensuring that the fixture can go ahead albeit in a different location," said Beaumont in Friday's statement.

Bill Beaumont is the new World Rugby chairman. Photo: Getty Images"We are working with our friends at the Tonga Rugby Union to deliver a match venue befitting of such an occasion and we remain committed to supporting the union with future Test match hosting opportunities," added Beaumont, a former England captain.

Meanwhile WRU chairman Gareth Davies, while "commending" the TRU for their efforts, said "time had proved to be against us all" and that it was the "right decision" to play the game elsewhere.

Wales, however, are still scheduled to play Samoa in Apia on June 24 as part of the same tour.

Italy and Scotland are due to play Tests in Fiji in June. With Fiji also playing Australia in Melbourne and the Oceania Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification fixtures in July, World Rugby said Pacific Island teams could look forward to a "strong schedule" of Test matches in June and July.