Double feast of Oceania rugby tournaments in Auckland

Oceania Rugby has announced two competitions to be held in Auckland ahead of the Commonwealth Games.

Six men's and 6 women's teams will participate in the Oceania Rugby Super Sevens, with Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga to be joined by an invitational Oceania side.

That competition will take place between June 24 and 26.

Two weeks later, the annual Oceania Rugby Women's 15s Championship will make a return after three years of cancellations due to the pandemic.

There have been limited opportunities for players across the Pacific due to Covid-19. Tonga and Papua New Guinea haven't played any sevens for about two years, Oceania Rugby's Interim General Manager Lemalu Wayne Schuster said.

"It's significant for Tonga and Papua New Guinea of course but also Tonga and Fiji heading into the Commonwealth Games."

Oceania Rugby Super Sevens will serve as a boost for those teams preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham which begins at the end of July, said Counties Manukau Rugby's Aaron Lawton.

"Over the last couple of years it's been pretty tough for our rugby people, we've had Covid interruptions and hopefully this is a sign that things are hopefully getting back to normal. Man it's exciting," Lawton said.

On top of the pandemic, players have faced a range of other stresses.

Tonga Sevens squad member Rodney Tongotea's family are still battling through the ongoing impacts of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcanic eruption and tsunami.

His grandparents lived on a small island in the Haudio' a'apai island group. His family home was left submerged under water forcing the elders to move to the mainland.

"But unfortunately what happened, everything went straight under the water, so every time I play, I play for them and my country. It's emotional but all I can do from here is do my best," Tongotea said.

Samoa women's team desperate to get back on the pitch

Manusina assistant coach Cynthia Ta'ala said Samoa's women's team did not qualify for the World Cup as they couldn't get to a qualifying match earlier this year due to Covid restrictions and financing.

"It is frustrating because you work hard since 2017/2018 to build the team back up again," Ta'ala said.

It is back to the drawing board with just four weeks to put together a team in time for the next challenge.

Makayla Eli hopes to be included as one of the players hitting the field representing Samoa's Manusina.

"It's an amazing opportunity, with the World Cup unfortunately, us not being able to take part in that this year because we were not able to get to our matches overseas, so for us to finally get some footy in, as well as being able to do it at home, is awesome," Eli said.

Event organisers hope fans from across Counties Manukau and Auckland will turn out in force to support teams that have overcome so much to get to this point.

"[It is a] chance to see heroes of both the sevens and the women's game," Schuster said.

The draw for the Oceania Rugby Super Sevens will be released on June 14.

Meanwhile, the men's Oceania Rugby Under 20 Championship will return for the first time since Covid-19 impacted regional competitions on July 1-10 at a new home, the Sunshine Coast Stadium in Queensland.

The event features hosts Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and for the first time Argentina.