Romania and Tonga's preparations for the Rugby World Cup commence when they face off in Bucharest on Saturday.
Tonga's head coach Mana ‘Otai has named a strong matchday squad for this match which will carry a special significance for the team as they prepare to take the field in support of former ‘Ikale Tahi flanker, and Romanian club CSM Baia Marie player Sione Vaiomo’unga, who was diagnosed with renal failure last year.
Vaiomo’unga is currently unable to leave Romania due to the inability to access dialysis in Tonga.
Otai said the match would have special meaning to everyone in the Tongan squad.
“We couldn’t ask for a better person to play this game [for] – especially to dedicate the game to him, given the talent and the unfortunate situation that he is in," he said.
He would have been in the team [for the Rugby World Cup], I can assure you, if it wasn’t for his illness because that’s the player that he is and showed at the last World Cup”.
Amongst the backs, Tonga have picked Telusa Veainu at full-back alongside wingers David Halaifonua abd Fetu’u Vainikolo, while Will Helu and start in midfield Siale Piutau and Kurt Morath and Sonatane Takulua from the halfback combination.
Up front Western Force stalwart Steve Mafi starts on the blindside flank alongside Nili Latu with Sione Kalamafoni at number eight. Halani Aulika,Elvis Taione, Soane Tonga’uiha start in the front row while Joe Tuineau are the Tukulua Lokotui locking duo.
Romania's last Test action was in June when they beat Spain and Namibia. However, they they recently registered a 10-10 draw with Yorkshire Carnegie before and suffering a 31-16 loss to Edinburgh two weeks ago.
Number eight Mihai Macovei will lead the Oaks against Tonga. He is joined in the back row by Viorel Lucaci and Valentin Ursache while South African-born Johan Van Heerden and Valentin Poparlan line up in the second row.
In the front row, Paulica Ion and Andrei Ursache are the starting props while Otar Turashvili packs down at hooker.
Amongs the backs, all eyes will be on Tongan-born Paula Kinikinilau, who starts at outside centre. Kinikinilau currently plies his trade for RC Timisoara in the Romanian Rugby Championship.
He is joined in midfield by Florin Vlaicu and Danut Dumbrava and Florin Surugiu line up at fly-half and scrum-half respectively. Full-back Catalin Fercu is joined in the back three by wingers Madalin Lemnaru and Adrian Apostol.
Romania: 15 Catalin Fercu, 14 Madalin Lemnaru, 13 Paula Kinikinilau, 12 Florin Vlaicu, 11 Adrian Apostol, 10 Danut Dumbrava, 9 Florin Surugiu, 8 Mihai Macovei (c), 7 Viorel Lucaci, 6 Valentin Ursache, 5 Johan Van Heerden, 4 Valentin Poparlan, 3 Paulica Ion, 2 Otar Turashvili, 1 Andrei Ursache.
Replacements: 16 Andrei Radoi, 17 Mihaita Laza, 18 Horatiu Pungea, 19 Marius Antonescu, 20 Daniel Carpo, 21 Valentin Calafeteanu, 22 Michael Wiringi, 23 Ionut Botezatu, 24 Csaba Gal.
Tonga: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 David Halaifonua, 13 Will Helu, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Nili Latu, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Joe Tuineau, 4 Tukulua Lokotui, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha.
Replacements: 16 Paula Ngauamo, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Hale T Pole, 20 Viliami Ma’afu, 21 Sosefo Ma’ake, 22 Latiume Fosita, 23 Vungakoto Lilo.
Date: Saturday, September 5
Venue: Stadionul National de Rugby Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest
Kick-Off: 21:00 local (18:00 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Assessor: John Sheehan (Ireland)