History awaits as Moana Pasifika prepares to play the first ever Super Rugby Pacific match in Tonga against the Highlanders this Saturday.

12 players of Tongan heritage will feature in the match for Moana Pasifika, ready to rise to the occasion. 

Head Coach Fa’alogo Tana Umaga has made some changes but the majority of the squad remains the same as last week. 

Jonathan Taumateine earns a start at halfback and Christian Lealiifano moves into the starting first five-eighth position. Meanwhile William Havili shifts to fullback. 

In the forward pack, Lotu Inisi moves into the starting lineup at number 8 and Jacob Norris goes back to six. 

Proud Tongan Solomone Funaki returns from injury and to the field for the first time this season, named on the bench.

Captain and ‘Ikale Tahi international Sione Havili Talitui said: “We want to put out our best performance for Tonga and we just want to make our people proud.”

The flanker hails from Pangai, Ha’apai, Tofoa and Tongatapu.

More than 20 of his family members are expected at the game as well as some friends from his old school Tupou College, Toloa on the island of Tongatapu. 

The Highlanders will depart the cooler climes of their hometown, Dunedin, for the high twenties of Nuku’alofa for the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific fixture to be held in Tonga on Saturday afternoon.  

This fixture is going to be an emotional homecoming for two Highlanders players, halfback Folau Fakatava and prop, Saula Ma’u – both of whom immigrated to New Zealand aged 15 and 16. For Ma’u this will only be the second time his parents have watched him play professionally and for both Fakatava and Ma’u the first time they have played professionally in their home country.  

This weekend’s fixture is also of high importance to the Highlanders season as they compete to maintain their inclusion in the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific play offs.

Clarke Dermody, acknowledged this, during theHighlander’s team naming today, “If you look at our and Moana Pasifika’s position on the table its clearly an important game for both teams. It will be a special occasion, particularly for our Tongan players, and there will be some unique challenges around the game that we have included in our preparation this week.”  

The team is largely unchanged with the only two changes to the starting XV at loose head prop and first-five; Daniel Lienert-Brown replaces Ethan de Groot (who is observing an All Black rest week)and Cameron Millar for Rhys Patchell. Patchell sustained a pectoral injury during the first half of the Force game last weekend and it has been confirmed today that he has been side lined for next 6-8 weeks.

Jake Te Hiwi retains the starting 12 jersey ahead of Sam Gilbert after a strong performance on Saturday, and Gilbert has been named in the reserves offering cover at first-five, midfield or full back if needed.  

The game will be played at 2:05pm local time (3:05pmNew Zealand Time) at Teufaiva Sport Stadium, Nuku’alofa, Tonga.