NEWCASTLE Falcons insist the battle for hearts and minds, rather than big bucks, was the driving force behind their decision to host the Tongan national team tomorrow night.
The Ikale Tahi (Sea Eagles) arrive at Kingston Park for the 7.30pm kick-off fresh from tackling Italy in Brescia on Saturday for what promises to be a fascinating evening.
Ex-Falcons star Epi Taione is the chairman of the Tongan Rugby Union, while Newcastle wing Suka Hufanga is among their touring squad for a game executive director Paul Varley hopes will capture the imagination of the North East sporting public.
Varley said: “Bringing Tonga to Kingston Park was a real opportunity to allow our fans to see international rugby in the region.
“Giving that chance to local youngsters was an important part of our thinking, and witnessing the ‘Sipi Tau’ before the game – the Tongan version of the Haka – is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
In an era where financial considerations can often dictate the sporting agenda, Varley stated: “Make no mistake, this is not a commercial money-spinner for us or anything like that.
“I have had dialogue with season-ticket holders about ticket prices and all the rest of it, but this is about covering our costs rather than making a bundle.
“It is an opportunity for supporters to see what we believe is the first international team to play against Newcastle Falcons, and it will be great for Kingston Park to be able to say that.
“The atmosphere promises to be something special and we are hoping as many people as possible can come along in person and witness this real unique opportunity.”
With two home games in the space of four days following last Friday’s visit of Championship chasers Nottingham, the Falcons are hoping a slow early take-up will accelerate as match night approaches.
The executive director admitted: “I have to say ticket sales are not as high as I would want, although we are hoping for a good pick-up leading up to it.
“We would encourage people to book as early as possible to ensure they get the best available seats,.
“We are hoping it proves to be a spectacle that people want to see.”
Using the visit of the Pacific island side to draw in a wider audience, Varley added: “I hope we will attract people who might not necessarily follow the Falcons every week and that they will get a taste of what it is like to come to a game at Kingston Park.
“As with all of these things the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
“We will see on the day what sort of support we get for the fixture.
“It is an opportunity for us to get different kinds of people to watch different kinds of rugby.
“We have Championship teams coming here this season and the results have been fantastic, but Tonga will be a different style and a different standard from the other games we have hosted. They will challenge Dean Richards and his players in a way they will have to adapt to, and it promises to be fascinating seeing how it all unfolds.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons prop Oliver Tomaszczyk will turn out for the RFU Championship XV for Saturday’s clash with the New Zealand Maori All Blacks.
The Northumbrian prop, who rejoined the Falcons from Worcester this summer, forms part of the 24-man squad for the game which will be held at Doncaster’s Castle Park.
Flank-forward Richard Mayhew had been due to join Tomaszczyk in a squad which will be coached by Bedford’s Mike Rayer, but seems likely to be withdrawn after suffering a bang to the head during Friday’s 29-9 win over Nottingham.