The road to Rugby World Cup 2023 in Asia and Oceania began in July 2021 when Samoa beat Tonga 79-28 over two legs.
With victory Samoa claimed their place as Oceania 1 in Pool D alongside England, Japan and Argentina. They have since been joined by Americas 2 qualifier Chile.
In doing so they became the fifth team from the regions to qualify for the showpiece tournament, joining Australia, Fiji, Japan and New Zealand who were assured of their place in France due to their performances at RWC 2019.
Seven days after their defeat to Samoa was confirmed, Tonga were back on the pitch, at Navigation Homes Stadium in Pukekohe, to face the Cook Islands in the Asia/Pacific Qualifier.
Captain Sonatane Takulua and Sione Tu’ipulotu each scored two of Tonga’s eight tries as the ‘Ikale Tahi secured their place in the Asia/Pacific play-off with a 54-10 win.
Due to the pandemic, Tonga would have to wait almost 12 months to find out who stood between them and a ninth men’s Rugby World Cup appearance.
On 9 July 2022, a late Gregor McNeish penalty ensured that Hong Kong beat Korea 23-21 in Incheon to claim the Asia Rugby Championship 2022 title and set-up a one-off winner-takes-all play-off against the ‘Ikale Tahi for a place at RWC 2023.
Two weeks later the teams met at Sunshine Coast Stadium in Queensland, where Takulua helped himself to a hat-trick of tries in Tonga’s 44-22 win. Victory means the ‘Ikale Tahi will line up in Pool B in France, alongside South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and Romania.
Hong Kong, meanwhile, will contest the Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai in November, against Portugal, Kenya and the USA. Whoever wins that will book the final ticket to RWC 2023.