Trio help hone Tongan team for Rugby World Cup

Experts from Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health (ISEH) have been hard at work preparing the Tongan national team for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup.

Tongan Students 1200X600

Matthew Blair, Principal Lecturer and Academic Leader of ISEH’s post-grad programme in Strength and Conditioning, has just returned from Tonga, where he has been working closely with the Tongan team, fine-tuning their physicality in the build-up to the international sporting event, which kicks off in France on 8 September.

Mr Blair was joined in Tonga by two locals, Koliniusi (Loa) Lepa and Isikeli VIte, both of whom are completing a Bachelor of Applied Science at Otago Polytechnic.

As interns, the pair worked with Mr Blair, analysing the Tongan players’ fitness, including measuring their strength and cardio-vascular fitness, then developing specific programmes to ensure the players are at their peak for the Rugby World Cup.

Koliniusi and Isikeli, who have mixed online and on-campus learning, returned to Tonga recently having spent the first semester of this year at Otago Polytechnic’s Dunedin Campus.

“I enjoyed every bit of it of my time in Dunedin,” Koliniusi reflects, adding: “Trying to adapt to the changes – both environmentally and academically – was a great experience.

“Returning to Tonga as part of my studies was one of my goals this year.

“I love sport and physical activity, which is why I chose to enrol in the Bachelor of Applied Science at Otago Polytechnic. In addition, I’ve wanted to contribute to sport in Tonga, especially rugby.”

Koliniusi (Loa) Lepa

“I have been fortunate enough to play a hand in helping prepare the squad for the World Cup. I was an intern strength and conditioning coach, assisting Mat, who is the head strength and conditioning coach.”

Koliniusi and Isikeli say the opportunity to integrate what they have learned at Otago Polytechnic with real-world placements has been invaluable.

“The experience has given me a taste of the demands and skills required to be a strength and conditioning coach at that level,” Koliniusi says. “And, as a community project, it also contributes to the professional practice requirements of the Bachelor of Applied Science programme.”

Isikeli, meanwhile, says his experiences with the Tongan squad have helped him implement a third-year project on Performance Analysis (including sports psychology skills training).

Although study commitments mean the training grounds of Tonga are as close as Koliniusi and Isikeli will get to this year’s Rugby World Cup, they’ll no doubt be with the team in spirit.

And both have big plans to lift the code on the Pacific Island nation.

“After completing my studies, I hope to return to Tonga and help build rugby here,” Koliniusi says. “I’d like to start a business where I can train teams and promote the right principles of training to help local players reach the national team.”

Isikeli: “I’d like to be involved in managing Tongan rugby’s high-performance programme.”

Hayden Croft, Head of Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health, says the Tongan’s duo’s experience is another example of the benefits of real-world learning.

“Our ākonga learn not only the theory and current research around sports, but also how to apply this knowledge in teams, employment situations and communities.

“We aim to help prepare Koliniusi, Isikeli and others to serve the wider Tongan community – as well as the Ikale Tahi at the Rugby World Cup!”

CAPTION: Koliniusi Lepa (rear-centre) and Isikeli Vite (front-centre) have been working with the Tongan Rugby World Cup Squad while completing a Bachelor of Applied Science at Otago Polytechnic.

Published on 29 Aug 2023