Tonga coach Kefu warns New Zealand to keep hands off Moana Pasifika players

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(Reuters) - Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said on Tuesday Moana Pasifika must not become a feeder team for the All Blacks amid concerns New Zealand could end up poaching players from the proposed Super Rugby side.

Along with Fijian Drua, Moana Pasifika has been granted a conditional license to join a planned Super Rugby competition with New Zealand and Australian teams in 2022.

While Fijian Drua will be based in Fiji, Moana Pasifika will be mainly based in New Zealand due to cost concerns, although comprised mainly of Tongan and Samoan players.

A slew of Tonga-born players have ended up representing New Zealand in tests in recent years after playing Super Rugby in the country, and Kefu said organisers needed to ensure talent developed at Moana Pasifika would not follow the same path.

"We've had a lot of young Tongan players over the years who've gone on to play for New Zealand, especially," former Wallaby Kefu told New Zealand's Stuff media.

"There's (Malakai) Fekitoa, (Shannon) Frizell, Vaea Fifita.

"That's a scenario where we would have to protect ourselves. We would have to throw those rules under the microscope and really investigate those details."

Moana Pasifika general manager Kevin Senio told New Zealand media that 80% of the team's 38-man roster would either be already playing for a Pacific islands nation or on that pathway.

"For those (80%) who are going to align themselves into Moana Pasifika, you can’t play for the All Blacks or Australia," he said on Sky on Monday.

"This team needs to be competitive, so it's a balance of having established players and those who are overseas that can help this team in terms of performance."

Senio also said Moana Pasifika would play some home games in Samoan capital Apia but would be primarily based in Auckland, the home of Super Rugby's Blues.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)