More than 10,000 people have turned out in heavy rain in the Tonga capital Nuku'alofa to watch the Highlanders beat Moana Pasifika 28-17 in the first Super Rugby match played in the Pacific Island nation.

Tonga became the 11th country to host a Super Rugby match.

There were 12 players in the Pasifika squad with Tongan heritage, including prop Abraham Pole who opened the scoring in the fourth minute on Saturday before the Highlanders' Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens scored two tries for a 19-17 halftime lead.

Both teams tried to play entertaining rugby in increasingly difficult conditions on a sodden field.

Cameron Millar kicked four penalties, the only points of the second half.

Highlanders captain Billy Harmon said his players were proud to be part of an "awesome" occasion.

"Tongan rugby has given so much to the world. Awesome atmosphere, awesome country, the boys have loved it," he said.

"To be able to grind out a win in these conditions was great. We've got some Tongan boys in our team too so it meant a lot to them."

The Highlanders' win keeps them inside the top-eight playoff zone for another week while Moana Pasifika are beginning to slip out of contention.

Moana Pasifika 17 [Tries: Pole, Havili; Con: Havili; Pen: Havili] Highlanders 28 [Tries: Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens 2, Garden-Bachop; Cons: Millar 2; Pens: Millar 3]

Moana: 15 William Havili, 14 Viliami Fine, 13 Henry Taefu, 12 Julian Savea, 11 Fine Inisi, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Jonathan Taumateine, 8 Lotu Inisi, 7 Sione Havili Talitui (captain), 6 Jacob Norris, 5 Allan Craig, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Samiuela Moli, 1 Abraham Pole.
Replacements: 16 Sama Malolo, 17 Sateki Latu, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Ola Tauelangi, 20 Solomone Funaki, 21 Ereatara Enari, 22 Danny Toala, 23 Neria Fomai

Highlanders: 15 Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, 14 Timoci Tavatavanawai, 13 Tanielu Tele’a, 12 Jake Te Hiwi, 11 Connor Garden-Bachop, 10 Cameron Millar, 9 Folau Fakatava, 8 Billy Harmon (captain), 7 Sean Withy, 6 Oliver Haig, 5 Fabian Holland, 4 Mitch Dunshea, 3 Saula Ma’u, 2 Henry Bell, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Jack Taylor, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Will Tucker, 20 Nikora Broughton, 21 James Arscott, 22 Sam Gilbert, 23 Martín Bogado.

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant referees: Stu Curran & Jackson Henshaw
TMO: Glenn Newman